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

HARD TIMES David Constantine, Davies (Bloodaxe Books) £7.95

David Constantine's first novel displays all the considerable linguistic control that won him plaudits for his two books of poetry. Formally and technically assured, it constructs a semi-fictional, semi-biographical object, the eponymous Davies, a habitual offender whose treatment by sentencing magistrates eventually became a national scandal, occasioning intervention by the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill. The circumstances of this unfortunate's life, spent for the most part in prison and when out of it tramping the roads of the counties bordering England and Wales, are established through three distinct discursive registers.

Of these, the predominant one is that of Davies' companion Bone, a crippled mute whom Davies alone is prepared to tolerate, to love even. This voice, speaking indirectly through a semantically complex third-person narration, achieves a strange intimacy in its very elaboration, as if the squalid catalogue of their sufferings can only become manifest in a form it could never plausibly have given rise to. For example, Davies is reading to Bone:

Alone, had he not read, in that voice of his, at last, into Bone's dirty ear, they dimmed the light. Ah, dearest, he read on, Lord Henry sighed, my own Gwendoline. The village slept, the river murmured through the silence, ever and anon came the sweet love-notes of an owl or nightingale. He took her, Bone remembered Dai had read, into his arms, in a decent voice, by a wall, under a bush, against a milestone in the Border Counties.

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