Home / Books / Continent (1986) / The Gift of Stones (1988) / Arcadia (1992) / Signals of Distress (1994) / Quarantine (1997) / Being Dead (1999) / The Devil’s Larder (2001) / Six (2003) / The Pesthouse (2007) / All That Follows (2010) / Harvest (2013)
Every woman that he dares to sleep with bears his child. So now it is Mouetta’s turn. Whispering and smudging his ear with her lipstick, her breath a little sour from the garlic in her lunch, she confirms her first, his sixth pregnancy. His sixth at least. She’s “passed the urine test,” she says - an unintended play on words which she acknowledges in the matinee darkness with half an optimistic smile. The doctor thinks she’s twelve or thirteen weeks. A baby’s due in May. It’s early days.
Mouetta feels, of course, (before the morning sickness and the back aches start, before the lifetime of anxiety and love) that her pregnancy is a personal blessing. The raven of good fortune has chosen her. It has alighted in her yard and she’s been brushed by its great wing. No other, adult explanation matters to her for the time being. She is the lucky one. This is her miracle.
They sit together in the cinema, that draughty art house cinema down on the wharf, their elbows touching and their jackets spread across their knees, to watch young lovers on the screen, young actors making love, or seeming to. She wishes Lix would speak to her, do something more than press her forearm with his own, a kiss perhaps. But he’s a film buff and an actor himself. “Silence for the colleagues,” he usually insists. He won’t ever speak, not once a movie has begun. Perhaps it’s just as well, this winterish afternoon, the perfect weather for the cinema, that he will make her wait until The End before he answers. He wants to say he feels besieged. Another child? He only has himself to blame. To be so fertile is a curse.
Lix could never say exactly when the pregnancies began. They always took him by surprise. Mouetta’s pregnancy as well. Especially hers. He had been privy to her ovulation dates, those gaping opportunities when intercourse was ill-advised for teeming alpha-males like him. They’d not been careless, had they, at the wrong time of the month? Twelve weeks? He counted back the weeks and counted back the times that they’d had sex. But still no clues. The days were fused and distant. How could he ever tell which time, which place had fathered this new child? Mother Nature doesn’t ring a bell. Whatever other noises might be made, the egg is punctured silently. If only he could call on chemistry and then biology, unsentimental disciplines, calculating, tidy and precise. They could pinpoint for him (had they the mind) that careless and productive day in his beleaguered, complicated life, could specify the hour, even.
Science has the answers every time: it was 2.00 a.m. or thereabouts on August 19th –the weekend of the Banking Riots, three dead, the city devalued and deranged, and interest rates “settled by decree” at a quarter of one percent- when Lix’s latest child was conceived. Conceived’s a charmless and misleading word, too immaculate and cerebral, too purposeful and too hygienic, to truly represent the headlong thoughtlessness, the selfishness -that night, especially- of making love. (Headlong for him at least.) It is a strangely cold and scientific word, as well. No passion. You’d think some calm technician had been employed to fit a tiny battery of genes. Conceived suggests a meeting of like minds, dedication, diligence, technology, and not the dusty, springing seats in the front of Lix’s grey Panache where no two minds and no two thoughts achieved on that occasion even the briefest instant of concord or shared a common cause. That’s one of the reoccurring oddities of sex, where it falls short, again, again. Opposing poles attract when lovers magnetize. His north of lust, Mouetta’s south of love. Crossed-purposes. And, surely, not a grand and proper way for children to begin. This child.
© Jim Crace 2002
“His novels marry invention and description so convincingly,” writes Benjamin Markovits in a long review in the Times Literary Supplement (5 Sept 2003), that they “leave behind the sense of the weight of a created world… [Six’s] six chapters describe the combinations of mood and circumstance that led to love-making: anger, pity, disappointment, boredom, lust; heavy rains, blocked traffic, blooming roof gardens, missed rendez-vous, botched pranks. More luck than love seems at work, though the children stand for whatever fidelity, affection, passion outlive the end of the affairs that produced them. Lix is timid and fecund, and the apparent contradiction of these qualities is the purpose of the book: modern lovers need not pretend to much love, but something like it sticks to them.”
DJ Taylor, writing in The Guardian Review (6 Sept 2003), starts by acknowledging Crace’s “highly appropriate” decision (given his universal, elemental themes) not to set his stories in actual geographical locations, then attempts to pin down their settings anyway: Being Dead “might just have taken place in Australia”, while the city at the heart of Six is possibly Budapest. (In 1912 Thomas Hardy noted wryly of his imaginary village Little Hintock, the setting of The Woodlanders: “I may as well confess that I do not know myself where that hamlet is, though tourists assure me positively that they have found it without trouble, and that it answers in every particular to the description given in this volume.”) Crace’s novels “are sharply, even bitterly determinist,” Taylor believes, “full of primitive stirrings and emotions.” “Stylishly done”, Six nevertheless left Taylor wanting more. (Note that the published version of Six is 220 pages, not 180 as shown in The Guardian.) Click here for the review.
According to The Observer’s Tim Adams (7 Sept 2003), Six
“asks to be read as a fable”. The structure and the imaginary city in which the
story is set put him in mind of Italo Calvino (whose Invisible
Cities Crace has identified as an inspiration for
The Devil’s Larder). Adams believes that, in terms of the plot, Lix’s lack of interest in either ‘taking precautions’,
or in getting to know the children he fathers, is implausible (I have to say that this seems muddled to me: it may be a flaw in Lix’s character, but it is nothing to do with the plot). “Crace’s language,” Adams believes, “aspires to poetry”, and the novel contains “haunting and precise passages of writing”. Click here for the review.
The cover of the American edition, titled Genesis
From The Author, autumn 2003
One of the most gratifying stages in the progress and production of a new book is that moment when the Uncorrected Proof Copy (or Advanced Reader’s Copy as it is known in the States) lands on the hall mat. All the disquiets of writing and editing are over, all the bruising attentions of critics are yet to come. You’re refreshed and optimistic. So far you’ve only heard from your agent, editor and spouse. It’s in their interest to say how much they love your book and not to disclose the knottier truth. For the time being, as reassuring evidence that once again your hard work has not been entirely in vain, you have the risk-free comfort of a little promotional softback to nourish your optimism and your ego.
I have both the British UPC and the American ARC of my latest novel (to be published in September and November) in front of me as I write. They couldn’t look more different. You would not imagine, if you were to encounter both editions side by side in a bookstore, that they could contain the same novel. The thick and chunky American edition from Farrar, Straus & Giroux has Sheila Metzner’s 1989 brooding portrait bust of Rick Dynamo on the cover. He’s holding a metal globe. He has the upper body of a Greek god, and the hair of a Greek goddess. It’s difficult to tell whether he is fat or fit. Are those muscles or does he have breasts? It’s appeal is ambiguous and androgynous.
The Viking/Penguin UPC is larger in format and carries a black and white, close-up photograph of a couple not quite kissing on its cover. They are all mouth, lips and foreplay. Very sculptural. This time the appeal is clearly heterosexual and mid-market. My daughter thinks the design looks “dodgy” and warns me that her friends think I am a writer of porn (My last book, The Devil’s Larder, boasted a Lipstick Diva on its jacket and looked more like a Cosmopolitan cover than a piece of literary metafiction.)
The biggest difference between the two editions, though, is the new novel’s title. In Britain and the Commonwealth it is called Six. And in the States it is called Genesis. I’m delighted in a way. I’ll be able to pretend that I’ve written two books instead of one. Maybe my more obsessive readers will be fooled into buying both books. Amazon UK lists them separately and already boasts that “customers who bought [Six] also bought Genesis.” But the conflicting titles were not something that I planned. I’d always thought that the book would be called Genesis on both sides of the divide. That was its working title and that was its subject matter, the story of the conceptions of a man’s six children. I was a little concerned that impulse purchasers might be disappointed to discover too late that a book called Genesis contained nothing new and scandalous about Phil Collins and his rock band but, generally, I thought the title was cheeky and witty, especially given my carefully tended reputation as a no-nonsense, North Korean style atheist. It was my agent, David Godwin, who sowed the seeds of uncertainty half way through the writing. He thought the title was “a little too bloated for the book.” I took no notice.
But that undermining word “bloated” came back to haunt and scare me a few months later just as I was about to press the Send button on my word processor and despatch the finished novel to my British editor, Tony Lacey. Maybe, it was unwise to share a title with a pop group. Maybe the title was too Biblical and self-consciously clever. Readers would only discover it was “cheeky and witty” once they’d bought and read the book. But could it be, as David Godwin had hinted, that Genesis was exactly the kind of smart-arse title that would scare newcomers away from my work? Was “Genesis” the briefest suicide note in history. Before I knew what I’d done, I’d retyped the title as the short, unfussy and graphically striking Six.
Now the truth came out. Hardly anybody at Viking/Penguin had liked my original title anyway. They hadn’t wanted to say, given my unpredictable temper. Now I had to endure the word “bloated” yet again. They all loved Six, however. It was contemporary and unpretentious. It would work well in the stores. I might lose the Phil Collins fans but I’d gain a larger group, readers who wouldn’t buy novels associated with the Old Testament. So that was it. I emailed the newly retitled novel off to New York. Deed done.
My American editor, John Glusman, was on the phone within minutes. “No no no no no,” would summarise his response. The new title was hollow and meaningless. It sounded like a cheap Hollywood thriller. Everybody at Farrar, Straus & Giroux loved Genesis. It was witty and cheeky, especially given my carefully tended etcetera etcetera. Furthermore, it would be a disaster if the novel were to be published under different titles on either side of the Atlantic. There was only one course open to us. Viking/Penguin would have to change their minds, and quickly. Catolog copy was being sent to FSG’s New York printers within hours.
Now I was having second -or was it third?- thoughts. Was it better to be bloated than hollow? Did I want to be cheeky or contemporary? Would my readers be more put off by a thriller than by the Bible? Whose book was it anyway? I was resolutely feeble. “These are publishing issues,” I told my warring editors. “None of my business. I’m taking the dog for a walk. Sort it out between yourselves.” They could not.
So is there a minor publishing calamity ahead for me and Genesis/Six? I think not. Although I do personally prefer one of the titles and one of the covers, I am also certain that what has happened is encouraging rather than alarming. Both editors and both publishing houses have exhibited strong views about how my novel should be presented and marketed. I am differently positioned in both markets, better selling in Britain, better “respected” in the USA. The Bible is bigger in America than the pop group. Design tastes are not the same in my home town of Birmingham as they are in Birmingham, Alabama. It makes good sense to have different covers and different titles even. What works in Britain doesn’t always work in the States. Maybe it’s not so feeble to let the publishers do their publishing as they see fit. That’s their entitlement. “None of my business” is sometimes the wisest phrase that an author can use. If anything goes wrong, then there’s someone I can blame.
© Jim Crace 2003