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Books A supremely superior realist novelist

PAUL SIMON recommends this surgical examination of abuse, the longevity of its implications and the struggles required to confront the pain

The Silk Pavilion
by Sarah Walton
Barbican Press, £9.99

“WHEN an interior situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate,” wrote Carl Jung.

Sarah Walton’s latest novel is a surgically emotional study of the perils of deliberate and damaging forgetting for both an individual and a whole country. At its heart it examines the utter tyranny of abuse, the longevity of its implications and the struggles required to confront the pain.

As such The Silk Pavilion is a Jungian exegesis that outgrows the thriller genre within which it as first seems to inhabit.

When a female freelance writer, who we only at the tail end of the book discover is called Lucy, lands an interview with reclusive Mallorcan writer, Miguel Mateo Nadal, she seems full of professional poise. This is, after all, an important but still regular assignment.

Yet in a sequence of chapters, largely from her perspective, but interspersed with occasional and disturbing accounts by Nadal himself, we see the relationship deepening in a manner increasingly damaging to the young woman.

Nadal is an utterly deluded narcissistic who appears able to impose his wishes on an at times frustratingly complaint Lucy. She appears willing to make greater and greater discounts of his behaviour as the full extent of his controlling ambitions and evasions about his previous relationships become apparent.

Walton avoids an over-reliance, though, on a purely binary dynamic in their interplay through subtly interposing the impact of geography and history on their and others’ actions.

Nadal’s Villa Rosa — a creaking, wheezing and compromised family home — develops into a third person leaking secrets that only just avoid bordering on the gothic.

Equally, the character of the rural Mallorcan landscape and society provides a constant menacing presence, not least the nearby mirador or cliff where Republican prisoners were hurled off during the Spanish Civil War. This is not the holiday location of tourist brochures and airbrushed websites. Rather it is an island interior struggling against the harsh realities of poverty and intergenerational hurt.

Walton structures her novel into four distinct and broadly equal length sections. The first sees Lucy entrapped as much by her romantic mis-reading of Mallorca as by Miguel, with the second being a realisation of the dangers of her situation.

The third, having fled from his tyranny sees her dismantling her marriage in New York and starting the process of Jungian psychanalysis in London. Here she comes to a partial realisation that she has been unwittingly repeating the abuse she suffered at her father’s hands.

Yet in a handbrake turn, the final phase sees her return to Villa Rosa as the gravitational pull of Nadal overcomes her reservations. This reader at least was screaming at her not to travel.

Walton’s ambiguous handling of Nadal’s fate and Lucy’s reaction to it shows her to be a supremely superior realist novelist.

This is such a powerful, resonant work. If it doesn’t reap dozens of literary prizes, then the literary world is as corrupt and supine as I’ve always believed it to be.


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