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This review is taken from PN Review 137, Volume 27 Number 3, January - February 2001.

TRUANCIES VAL WARNER, Tooting Idyll (Carcanet) £9.95

My inner eye truants from the living page
via the elms, to soil, the source, the book
whose text we live: Galileo's 'grand book,
the universe', dimming any chained monk's
manuscript. Each leaf's metaphorical.

The truancy which opens the title sequence of Val Warner's ironically entitled Idyll is a recurring motif. The mind's eye perpetually slips off its objects, sliding from the text to the book of nature and back again, as that ambiguous 'leaf' recalls that what's now metaphor was once literal, 'metaphor' itself a carrying over or across. Tom, who's reflecting here, a conscientious objector in the war-shadowed later 1930s, sits reading in a 'shady bourgeois garden', 'our little Eden here / in Huron Road'. A professional translator working his way through Zola's Germinal, Tom is haunted by anxiety that the approaching war will carry away (translate) his younger lover, Jack. The play between translation and metaphor (its literal Greek equivalent), and between both and the idea of playing truant, provides the pattern of all experience in this ambitious and impressive sequence. Warner, herself a translator of some note, offers here a narrative of inconsequential lives structured by a continual carrying over, a transference and recurrence, over half a century, of the same patterns of experience and the ways they are interpreted.

Fifty years on, at the start of the second section, Kate, the would-be adopter of a succession of wayward foster children, sits in that same garden, ...


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