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James Sorel-Cameron. Sinclair-Stevenson. 14.99 [pounds]. 1 85619 185 0.

Fiction remains at the cultural centre not least because it resists electronic artifice and the tricks of charlatans. It is not so easy to fake the art of fiction. In Britain, there being so little attention to the short story, the novel is the voice of the nation. Whatever happens to be contending for the current orthodoxy finds its purposes undermined by the cool, ironic eye of the storyteller. There is nothing socially correct -- nor politically correct -- about fiction. It deals in improper conduct, in unsayable frankness and discomforting moral truths. The novel will not fit the prescription. And -- infuriatingly for some -- novels continue to be written and read. They are the one, certain guarantor of liberty of conscience.

James Sorel-Cameron's fictions have been well-received almost everywhere, the only dissent coming from embittered ideologues who seem irritated by the undoubted masculinity of the author and his prose. He writes as a man, and with a masculine eye which is an honest testament. It is not that he dislikes or patronizes women. But his prose has an authority which is decidedly patriarchal. In fact, he writes as the natural successor to Golding and Fowles.

It is no surprise that he tends towards the mythic, and that his view of humankind is tempered by a sense of the Fall. Like his mentors, Sorel-Cameron has a strong sense of resolution but little of redemption. in this, his third novel, successive generations of a family fail to connect the inner and the outer being. Personal desire and social responsibility wage war within every heart. The social circumstance differs over the years, but the problem lingers.

The author's eye may be harsh, but he has a rich command of language and a muted sense of the comic in his evident use of pastiche. What might seem at first glance to be a family saga entertainment soon betrays itself with its bardic, prophetic prose. No-one tries so hard simply to entertain. The demands the author makes on himself are, as ever, extraordinary. He could have opted for an easier course. And the resources he makes of language at times come close to the unintelligible. Sorel-Cameron walks a very narrow ledge, but does reach the other side, not least by his considerable narrative verve. It is as if there were somewhere a simple tale which he has discarded for its simplicity. He wants to reflect life in its complexities, its ambiguities.

This becomes an appraisal of the imperial sensibility -- self is sacrificed f or the nation. World wars, public school, colonial service -- these are the rites of passage which the family undergoes. To what purpose? When the empire is lost there is Swinging Britain, the satyr play following the tragedy. And yet imperial ambition re-emerges, not in conquest but through the media. In each generation the bourgeoisie re-creates itself. The accent is demotic, but the imperium remains more or less intact.

Storm-blind is a seering indictment of a nation, a century, and a class. It is also a plea for a change of heart. We are not as nice as we think we are, but we are better than our enemies say. It is a timely reminder of fiction's prophetic role.
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Author:Heptonstall, Geoffrey
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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