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This article is taken from PN Review 21, Volume 8 Number 1, September - October 1981.

'Dearie Me Today' - Roy Fuller Neil Powell

'IF only one's art hadn't always to be ironical.' Not, as one might suppose, Roy Fuller himself-although the wry and rueful tone is unmistakably his-but the fictional poet Daniel House in Fuller's novel The Carnal Island (1970). One ironical point, indeed, is that there is a good deal more about the poet and his art in The Carnal Island than there is in the poet's memoirs, Souvenirs. The novel concerns a young poet, James Ross, who works for a publisher and who has to visit House, at his coastal home, on literary business. The action takes place in a single weekend, but the novel's themes are time and timelessness, change and decay, the complex, deceptive and always ironic interaction between art and life. Although the novel is dominated primarily by House (and secondarily by Ross as interviewer, narrator, discoverer), lightly-sketched subsidiary characters fill out the theme: House's second wife, once a bright secretary with his publishers, now 'with imperfect understanding' jealous of her husband's creativity (one thinks, perhaps irrelevantly, of Emma Hardy); Bob Calwell, the homosexual novelist whose 'trouble had been that after his youth he'd been unable or unwilling to get, as it were, the anal into his work'; Jan, House's beautiful, doubly-illegitimate granddaughter who turns out to be unexpectedly deformed. The ingenious design of the novel, built around the intimacy and frankness which are possible between two poets precisely because they are near-strangers and of different generations, allows Fuller to deal with the business of poetry more ...

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