A Pure Clear Light / Madeleine St John
London: Carroll & Graf, 2000, c1996.
Another of Madeleine St John's small oeuvre, I finished this one this week, much more slowly than I read the last two.
I didn't feel as engaged by this book as the others I've read: it focuses on Simon and Flora's marriage and the moment at which Simon is overcome by his attraction to Gillian, a cool blond accountant, and starts an affair -- while Flora is feeling like something's missing in life and so starts exploring a return to the church. She even goes so far as to help out at the jumble sale, in a Pym-like twist.
Flora and Simon have 3 children and both work in artistic fields, with artistic friends abounding. Like her other books this is told in a lot of dialogue, and at times I had to stop and reread a number of times, even aloud, to figure out who was saying what. There's a lot of introspective waffling by many of the characters here, and not always very interesting thoughts, especially by the self-justifying Simon.
There's is also a whole chapter that is just a sermon by a vicar, completely inserted whole cloth into the story, loosely stitched in by having Flora enter and leave the church. It was a bit much for me. I think it must reflect St John's personal reflections and her thoughts at the time of writing; it feels like a glimpse into the lives of a rather arty, well-off strata of Londoners. And because of that it doesn't feel quite as sharp as The Essence of the Thing (though Nicola and Jonathan from that book make an appearance in this one too). It's a small circle, of a particular kind of person, that she is writing about.
This one feels a little surfacey, a little bit artificial. Simon's choice is laid out as a dichotomy between stable marriage that is pretty good and wild passion. Flora doesn't seem to have much of a choice, though at times she finds it easier to live without Simon around.
The struggle just seems a little bit, dare I say, cliché? I was not convinced by Simon -- I thought he was a bit of a twit all along. And St John's use of language to show the difference between the 'nice' home life and the more sexy, modern, affair (lots of curse words) jar with the tone of the book as a whole, for me.
So while she can sure write, and is clever and leavens her story with wry observations and humour I just didn't love this one. It took me longer to get through it, and I didn't love any of the characters much. It is good -- but not a keeper.