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This review is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

SKIN SHEDDING John Hawkes, Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade (Chatto and Windus) £9.95

John Hawkes' career encompasses some dozen novels, charting the gradual struggle of a prodigiously imaginative writer to control (some might say extinguish) a power amply demonstrated in his astonishing first novel, published when he was twenty-four. Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade, the work of Hawkes at sixty, is a world away from The Cannibal: it appears to confirm both the prediction of his early mentor Albert Guerard, that Hawkes would move towards realism, and the oft-quoted observation of Harry Levin that fiction tends towards autobiography. Apart from a handful of dream sequences, the method of Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade seems almost purely naturalistic: a thoroughly old-fashioned first-person memoir (although the narrator does age fourteen months during the narration, somewhat disconcertingly). Hawkes has tried, in his own recent words, 'relaxing into the pleasures of autobiographical fiction' and the events of the first part of the novel clearly echo Hawkes' own childhood in Juneau, Alaska. To a reader admiring Hawkes' earlier work, this new novel threatens to confirm the impression of a distinct falling-off.

It is inevitable that Hawkes will be remembered for The Cannibal, but it would be unfortunate if the change that has undoubtedly taken place in his writing over a period of nearly forty years should be accounted a decline. The Cannibal is a fantasia on love and death set against the desolation of Europe in 1945. Concrete reality functions as a landscape for the unconscious: annihilation of everything that is provides a ...


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