r _. _, _ THE FIRST BOOK OF MERLIN
THE COMING OF THE KING
N l K LA] '1' LSTY
His bestselling Arthurian epic
“I much preferred it to The Lord ofthe Rings”
john Hayley. PROFESSOROF EN(;LISII OXFORD UNIVERSITY
“I was entranced. . . .
Buy it, Ibeseech you” Ted Willis. SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
NOW IN CORGI PAPERBACK g]
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from the writings of some of their authors- Neil Bartlett, William Goyen. Juan Goytisolo. ‘The Seven Deadly Sins' and Tom Wakefield — given by The Company and special guests. in aid of Gay Switchboard. Sunday 26 Mar 2.30pm at the Third Eye Centre.
The Australian writer Elizabeth Jolley converses as she writes - she oilers rather than delivers steady, unpretentious, interested prose. She suggests and receives suggestions, but avoids the definitive statements and generalisations which are so often a part oi the novelist’s sales pitch.
‘The Sugar Mother', Jolley’s latest novel, shares with many at its predecessors an open-endedness. It tells the story at Edwin Page, a middle-aged prolessor, who, in the absence at his obstetrician wile Cecilia, somehow lalls in with a clucking, bustling mother and her young daughter, Leila. lle develops a crush on Leila, and through the mother’s orchestration, enters into a deal whereby Leila will act as surrogate mother (sugar mother) tor the childless Edwin and Cecilia. Although Cecilia is not party to the agreement (and knows nothing at it), Edwin, awash in an extraordinary new world at unlullilled desires, tries to convince himsell that he is acting lor the best.
The book’s open-endedness involves both a literally unresolved conclusion and a clutch oi unknowns. The principal unknown - is Leila’s baby actually Edwin's or was she already pregnant when they met and has her mother orchestrated the whole surrogacy idea lortheir financial advantage? - is never resolved. At the book’s conclusion, everything hangs in the air - will Edwin pursue Leila and the baby, or will he await Cecilia’s return and resume his old lite? Jolley is unrepentent and somewhat gieelul about this lnconclusiveness: ‘it’s awlul, isn’t it? i don’t really mind though, because I had done what I wanted to with the novel. One or two people have written endings lor me. There‘s a wonderiul one where Edwin rushes oil to the airport in his shirt-sleeves and without any luggage. ile lollows Leila and her mother-to London where he linds them living in a rather sleazy part at the city, setting up in the old prolession. He moves in with
Elizabeth Joliey emigrated to Australia in 1959 with her husband and children. Edwin and his circle are all
emigres who have remained unlntegrated with other Australian cultures. ‘ln “The Sugar Mother" I was interested to explore what might happen when people migrate and make triendshlps on a ship which then more or less structure and lrame their luture lives. It doesn‘t mean that a lot at ' people live like that in Australia. You can‘t generalise about Australia,
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5' Edinburgh '
I Cencrastus are holding a ceilidh to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the magazine. Innumerable Scottish literary dignitaries (eg. Norman MacCaig. Edwin Morgan. Sorley MacLean.1ain Crichton Smith. Hamish Henderson) will be in
because it's several countries in one, really. I use the Australian landscape to parallel perhaps the thoughts, ieelings and behaviour at my characters. But the things that happen to them -their internal drama - really belong anywhere in the world.’
The Australia inhabited by Edwin and Cecilia is at the white, anglo-saxon, middle-class variety. Like ex-pats, they try to sustain the gall, bridge and dinner-partying at ‘back home'. “There is a danger, I think, all over the world, at getting into a society or company which is purely trivial. That one almost lrltters llle away in that way.’
Jolley discusses her characters as it they have independent lile, as ll they might be entirely spontaneous individuals whose motives are hidden and are changeable. I put lorward the predictable (it usual) ideas at themes and interpretations. Jolley’s response is as interested and as considered as that oi another reader, rather than the inventor, she peppers her comments with uncertainties: ‘Yes, that is
possible, lsuppose . . ‘as tar as we can see. . and ‘ol course we‘re not quite sure. .
She is, however, certain about what lies behind her unwillingness to prescribe: ‘Whatever a reader likes to make ol it is quite all right. ldon’t want to say “llle is like this” or “characters are like that" and “this happened and that happened”. I don’t want to be a judgemental writer. I'd ratherjust utter a picture and then it there are readers kind enough to read the books, they can make their own conclusions. i hope I otter enough in the books.’ (Kristina Woolnough)
‘The Sugar Mother‘ is published by Viking at £11 .95. Elizabeth Jolley's previous novel ‘Palomino‘ has just been published by Penguin in paperback at £4.99.
58 The List 24 March—6 April 1989