Who’s under the desk?

Siddhartha Deb

  • The Horned Man by James Lasdun
    Cape, 195 pp, £10.99, February 2002, ISBN 0 224 06217 4

At the beginning of James Lasdun’s novel, Lawrence Miller, a professor of gender studies at a college on the outskirts of New York, is interrupted while reading a book. When he returns to his office the next day, he finds his bookmark has been moved forward thirty pages. ‘Either I had moved the marker inadvertently myself, or else some night-visitor had been reading the book in my absence.’ He brings the matter up with his analyst, Dr Schrever. Her name is perhaps a clue that the more paranoid interpretation is the right one, but Miller wonders if the misplaced bookmark could be ‘a case of parapraxis – Freud’s term for the lapses of memory, slips of the tongue, and other minor suppressions of consciousness that occur in everyday life.’ It will not be long before he realises that the slips and lapses in his life are far from minor, and the world around him anything but everyday, but the plot’s momentum has been checked. This is the way the narrative works, with interruptions and false starts: Miller’s carefully modulated account of the odd incidents in his life holds the reader back even as the incidents themselves pull us forward.

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