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This review is taken from PN Review 59, Volume 14 Number 3, January - February 1988.

DISORIENTATIONS Jim Crace, Continent (Heinemann) £4.95

'There and beyond is a seventh continent - seven peoples, seven masters, seven seas. And its business is trade and superstition. Pycletius, Histories, IV.3'

The epigraph to Jim Crace's Continent will engender a frisson for devotees of Mme Blavatsky, at the prospect of another Lemurian saga; but despite its obvious credentials the work is not a sequel to the Book of Dyzan. Nor is it a 'myth for our times' as the jacket proclaims. Seven related narratives combine to create a shadowy picture of a continent which lacks even a name, and whose landscape and inhabitants are, on the whole, unremarkable. The disorientation the reader faces initially, in attempting to classify what he is about to read, is sustained so that at those points where Crace is closest to the unconscious self-parody of earlier seekers after Atlantis or Mu, he is also nearest to being what those partial forebears could never be: self-conscious, ironic and determinedly detached from his handiwork.

'Sins and Virtues' epitomises the paradox which makes Crace's writing compelling. The narrator is a retired calligrapher, the only remaining practitioner of Siddilic script, who has said in his art all he wishes to say. He has abandoned the 'quest for meaning in form', preferring now to 'doodle'; to enjoy the beauty of verticles and palmettes rather than ponder their significance. However, he is forced from retirement by the discovery of his talent by visiting Americans and Europeans who buy up his works and ship ...

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