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Writing in Exile

Forsaking domestic comforts, James Hamilton-Paterson explores his inner life and our human nature.

Roger Boylan

8 James Hamilton-Paterson's resume spans the globe and several professions. He won the Newdigate Prize for Poetry as an undergraduate at Oxford. He has ....worked as a Fleet Street reporter and as a freelance journalist in Vietnam. In 1989, his novel Gerontius won the Whitbread Prize. He's been shortlisted for the Whitbread again (for Ghosts of Manila in 1994), published ten novels (three of them for children), five non-fiction books, and three collections of poetry. He's a member of the Royal Geographical Society. He writes a bimonthly column on marine science for Das Magazin of Zürich. He has eked out a living on a remote Southeast Asian island, spent fourteen hours in a bathyscaphe at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and presently lives in a stone cottage on a hilltop in Tuscany, when he's not in his bamboo hut in the Philippines. His work has been praised by such respected literati as Muriel Spark, J. G. Ballard, William H. Gass, James Hynes and Peter Matthiessen. And yet he stands apart, like other literary exiles of the past.

Books by James Hamilton-Paterson discussed in this essay
Gerontius (1989)
Soho Press, $10.95 (paper)

That Time in Malomba (1990)
Soho Press $9.95 (paper)

The Great Deep (1992)
Random Century, (out of print)

Griefwork (1995)
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, (out of print)

Loving Monsters (2002)
Granta Books, $24.95 (cloth)

He has lived away from England for so many years that he has left all her Grub Street infighting behind, but he carries in his exile's baggage the unmistakable Englishness that identifies him as being from the same school of literary wanderers that produced Byron, T. E. Lawrence, and Sir Richard Burton. In his novel Ghosts of Manila, he says of his character John Prideaux, an expatriate like himself:

His heart was not there when he needed to summon it. Professional absentee, it had gone into hiding, leaving him with nothing but an Arts education to fall back on.

Hamilton-Paterson himself undoubtedly has more than his Arts education to fall back on, but I feel fairly confident we won't be seeing him on Oprah anytime soon. Part of this standing apart—this "professional absenteeism"—comes from deliberate personal choice. He's a hard man to pin down, and we may infer from his nomadic way of life that he likes it that way. However, part of it—perhaps the larger part—derives from his cultural origins, for Hamilton-Paterson is a product of that great middle class that has given Britain so many of her explorers and statesmen and the world so much great literature, yet at the same time has inspired in its members (one thinks of the Shelleys, the Gosses, the Bloomsbury crowd, and so on) that form of class resentment that tends to manifest itself in simply getting out, in doing things that are as outrageous, un-middle-class and hard-to-pin-down as possible—following the adventurer's impulse, pour épater le bourgeois. (Rimbaud was the French archetype.) There is something of this spirit in Tintin, and Saki, H. Rider Haggard and the British boys' adventure hero Biggles; and of course T. E. Lawrence, Wing Commander Bader, and their ilk were in many ways real-life Tintins and Biggleses. Hamilton-Paterson conforms to type. The curious (or slightly malicious) reader might be tempted to ask, "What's the man running from?"

I suspect that answering this question would be of considerably less interest to Hamilton-Paterson than to a fellow writer-in-exile like me. He is, after all, only upholding one of the most venerable of British traditions: getting the hell out. But it's not as if he would otherwise have been doomed to a Dickensian fate; on the contrary, his upscale origins can be inferred from the little glimpses of his life we can catch here and there in his work. In the treasure-hunt chronicle Three Miles Down, for example, he encounters an old acquaintance whose father's medical partner was the Queen's gynecologist, "with whom," says Hamilton-Paterson, "my mother had occasionally worked as anesthetist." We're a long way from the East End, or even the Fulham Road.

Despite (or because of) his upper-middle-class origins, Hamilton-Paterson was once distinctly left-leaning in his sympathies; "politically committed" would be the euphemism of choice. That old leftward tilt doesn't show up as much anymore as it did when he wrote about America's checkered past in Asia in The Greedy War, a novel about American misdeeds in Vietnam, and in America's Boy, a non-fiction account of the ties between the former Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his American sponsors. Happily, the artist seems to have taken over from the journalist. Hamilton-Paterson now tends toward armed neutrality vis-à-vis the world, a better pose for a writer who doesn't want to end up as a mere pamphleteer. But whatever his subject, he writes about it in prose that elevates him above the mainstream. He is a naturalist and travel writer, but he is also much more. He is a master stylist, one of the finest writing in English today.

He is also more than just another British expat soaking up the sun abroad and sneering at foggy old England. Though geographical exile looms large, his work's unifying theme is the exile of the self from social connection. "Outer," geographic exile serves as merely a useful symbol for the deeper, inner variety, the outward journey from A to B proceeding parallel to an emotional journey of self-discovery. Gerontius (1989), which James Hynes, writing in these pages, called "one of the most insightful meditations on the life of the artist since Death in Venice," is the story of such a journey. It is Hamilton-Paterson's masterpiece. Gerontius is essentially plotless, like so much of the best literature. It needs no plot. It's the oldest story, the story of a journey, "there and back again"—inner, as well as outer.

The journeying hero is Sir Edward Elgar, England's greatest musician since Purcell, composer of the eponymous oratorio The Dream of Gerontius, among other things, including the majestic Enigma Variations and those old, graduation ceremony warhorses, the Pomp and Circumstance marches. In the novel, it is 1923 and widowed sixty-six-year-old Elgar is taking a ship to the Amazon. Elgar actually made such a voyage, yet nothing is known about his trip: the ideal point of departure for a novelist's imagination. Now, for a novelist successfully to use a composer as the hero of a novel, given the novel's unavoidable scrutiny of a character's soul and thoughts, is a tour de force in itself, and Hamilton-Paterson brings it off with flair. He is clearly not only a music-lover and knowledgeable to his fingertips (much of his work alludes to music, notably his short-story collection The Music, whose ten stories are all variations on a musical theme), but he evidently did his homework, too, and talked to composers, or read up on them—or is one himself, combining literature and composition like that other eminent expatriate and master stylist, the late Anthony Burgess. In any case, in Gerontius his evocation of the composer's art, and its genesis, rings true.

Already at this moment of the first sketch he placed the hairpins of crescendos and diminuendos, the characteristic tenutos over notes he wanted stressed, the detailed dynamics which always were as much a part of what he heard as the notes themselves. On impulse he added a third stave above the other two halfway down the page and scrawled Tenor above it: there was suddenly the sound of a voice but he could not hear the words.

"On impulse": yes, that rings true as a description of the way a composer works. And of course he could not hear the words at first: all is sound, like the waves of the sea. Insights of comparable force are scattered throughout the novel and render Elgar the composer entirely believable. Moreover, Elgar the artist becomes a memorable figure, a bristling, arrogant, yet deeply vulnerable and essentially decent man to whom life has dealt the usual contrapuntal series of insults and plaudits, the latter—fame, relative wealth, the Order of Merit—a little too late to make a difference.

Ten or fifteen years earlier my honours could have come as encouragement; as it was they fell into my life with the dead weight of full stops.

In writing about Elgar's relations with his fellow-passengers (the ship: classic setting for the human tragicomedy) Hamilton-Paterson evokes the skittering, self-conscious, hypersensitive pride of the artist as well as, if not better than, any other writer since—as Hynes suggests—Thomas Mann. Joyce's Stephen Daedalus, too, comes to mind, and Romain Rolland's Jean-Christophe. Love is remembered, half-invoked, regretted, and finally stashed away with everything else on memory's dusty shelves. In the end, after an unexpected encounter in Manaus with a long-lost (but not forgotten) love, Elgar returns to rainy England, perhaps a little sadder, but certainly a little wiser. It's a lovely, elegiac tale. Is there a flaw? Of course, pace Randall Jarrell's description of a novel as "a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it." At times I found Elgar's self-criticisms less than convincing. There's too much of that upper-middle-class deprecation in him, too much fashionable late-twentieth-century Weltschmerz—too much Hamilton-Paterson and not enough Elgar, who was, after all, a celebrated Englishman at the zenith of Empire, and probably not given to nihilistic self-consciousness on the subject of himself:

Well, finally it seems I've wasted my life….Suddenly on the bridge this morning I felt the flimsiness of all my substance, but not so much because I'd missed something. Quite the contrary—it was because of something of which I've had all too much: myself.

or his art:

I doubt it ever occurs to people who are not cursed with this 'urge to create' (whatever that is) how, far from living in sublime communion with one's Muse, one grows thoroughly to hate her.

The reductive aside "whatever that is" is pure anomie du jour, decidedly more existentialist than Edwardian. Indeed, Hamilton-Paterson admits elsewhere (in Three Miles Down) that his Elgar character is merely himself "disguised as a man of sixty-six." And it is this infusion of self-topicality that weakens the character. Still, taken as a whole—as a meditation on the life of a composer, as well as a tone poem in prose and as an account of the artist's life—Gerontius is a lyrical tale of great originality.

* * *

In his other work, Hamilton-Paterson ranges wide, as any gifted writer must, although such versatility presents a challenge to genre-minded critics and publishers who like to pigeonhole their authors; but one thing Hamilton-Paterson proves repeatedly is that he defies categorization, at least as a writer. His second novel That Time in Malomba, (published in Britain under the less zany title The Bell-Boy) resembles Gerontius only because both novels deal with journeys, and both start light and end heavy, but there the similarities end. On one level, That Time in Malomba is a comedy about earnest British salvation-seekers in the Far East, but it goes on to describe how these spiritual pilgrims, who are both inner and outer exiles, simultaneously undermine and shore up the local culture: by treating eastern religion like a cash-and-carry commodity on the one hand, but on the other offering Laki, their bell-boy, the best chance he's ever had to better himself. Like one of Waugh's satires, the book starts as a semi-farce, and it retains its farcical elements to the end. But its import steadily grows deeper and more somber, its true meaning more elusive but more intriguing, like the sea, the farther out you go toward the horizon: an apt simile, because Hamilton-Paterson is haunted by the sea. In all his work, this eternal avenue of exile is never far away.

Griefwork, his third novel, doesn't involve much travel, except the inner variety, but it does take place near a gray Northern sea, in an unnamed but Dutch-feeling city—The Hague maybe, or Rotterdam, with the cry of gulls and a sea-tang in the cold air. It is soon after the Second World War. The world is chill, drab, gray. The setting is the less drab, indeed almost tropical, greenhouse of a botanical garden, symbol of the glorious (and liberating) Tropical East. The curator, a botanical genius named Leon, has a rich fantasy life: he hears his plants talking among themselves.

Long after he had gone to bed their discourse continued softly, whispers which he would distantly hear until the moment he fell asleep and again not long after waking. He had come to recognise distinct generic voices. The palms were overbearing, the Annonas by turns spiteful and tender.

This conceit actually works. The plants evolve distinct personalities, and have more humor than the human characters—more humor, but less soul. Leon is all soul. He is a bit of a nut too, granted. But deep down he is, like his creator, primarily an acute observer of beauty in the midst of the drab or the mundane: the breast-deep heaving of waters in the grey Northern light; the poppy in the wasteland, nodding in the breeze; the fragrant spillage of iris in one corner of a brick-strewn empty lot; the longing ache that fills the heart at the sight of purplish cirrus clouds over huddled rooftops at dusk. Hamilton-Paterson is at his lyrical best when he evokes Leon's response to his immediate surroundings:

In the morning when he got up and went into the Palm House the light's effect produced a tingle of remembrance, something to do with what winter means for northerners.

A hint of nostalgia, perhaps, for Hamilton-Paterson's gray Northern past, from exile on his Tuscan hilltop or far Asiatic shore? When Leon chews over the nature of his obsessions, he laments their essence in terms that also seem somewhat nostalgic:

Too much flesh, not enough of the intangible electric which shocked at the sight of a breaking bud's first gleam of colour, the soft trudge of a heron across the sky at dusk, the noise of sea wind through rimy grasses in a winter's dawn.

But this is really just a symptom of the man's emotional febrility. Leon clearly has a lover's (and an exile's) temperament. He is the son of North Sea sailors (the flat openness of the Dutch polders is beautifully evoked in a flashback to Leon's boyhood) and it turns out he's been in love most of his life. During a pivotal adolescent summer, working as an assistant to a local scientist, he has fallen in love with the daughter of the scientist's Asian servant. The girl, Cou Min, vanishes from Leon's life but not from his heart. She is the leitmotif of all his grieving thereafter, not that he's fully aware of it; for, "quite without knowing it," Leon "lives in a constant state of sorrow." Rather, Cou Min becomes his subconscious raison d'être. His abiding sadness is only temporarily mitigated by the war's grim distractions (Leon redeems his existence, in a way, by saving a gypsy from the Nazis). Then, in the postwar dreariness, he embarks upon an ambiguous love affair with a beautiful Asian princess, Cou Min redux. The princess dallies and flirts and suggests he might come to her far Asiatic kingdom to run a botanical garden for her. Does she mean it? Does she mean more? Is she interested in him personally? The enigma haunts him. In an echo of Elgar's self-contempt—perhaps self-weariness is more accurate—Leon blurts out his frustration:

I see now what I've made of this life, this one flash of light on a black sea catching me for an instant before it sweeps on forever. All my passion's in vain. I've never discovered what a satisfactory outcome would have been. To be loved in return as the rock loves the limpet for needing it?…The light sweeps on and never returns.

In Leon's end, as in Elgar's, and yours, and mine—as in all ends—there is only irresolution, darkness, nothingness. It's a grim but haunting book, and contains agonizingly lyrical passages. Once again Hamilton-Paterson is entirely successful in his portrait of an artist, this time as a doomed man heading for the ultimate exile. It's Schopenhauer's pessimism made literature.

And so to sea again. Thalassa! Thalassa! is the muted cry of the narrator throughout Hamilton-Paterson's work.

The sea can give off a strange, lifting benevolence, and I can feel it blowing through me as I write these words, months later and far ashore.

The sea beckons to Hamilton-Paterson as it has to so many Britons (of all classes) since the days of Drake and Raleigh. Four of his books deal with it, or its verges: Playing With Water, Seven-Tenths: The Sea and its Thresholds, Three Miles Down, and The Great Deep. The Great Deep is Hamilton-Paterson's homage to the sea. It's a scrapbook of sorts, a fascinating compendium of odds and ends about seafaring and the odd myths that have sprung up, and continue to spring up, like waterspouts, about and around those four-fifths of the planet's surface. In it, Hamilton-Paterson takes a long look at the varieties of human experience at sea. His encyclopedic tour includes everyone from the Zetetics—a variant of the Flat-earthers, who quite seriously contended, and still contend (yes, there are still some about) that the wafer-flat Earth ends in great impassable barriers of an unknown and unknowable wilderness of ice—to the serious high-tech professional geographers with whom Hamilton-Paterson sails on an expedition to map the astonishing topography of the vast mountain ranges beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean. Recurring throughout the book is the image of a swimmer who has slipped overboard for a dip in the ocean and becomes untethered from his boat, which promptly vanishes into a vast oceanscape of overwhelming sameness. It evokes a horrifying finality. As Leon has it, in Griefwork: "The light sweeps on and never returns." This fugal meditation on the condition of humanity, all unprepared for the final realities of death and nature—exiled from both in our cozy fool's paradises—weaves in and out of the anecdotes, memories, and reflections that make up the rest of the book. It jolts the reader out of his pleasant contemplation of the author's contemplation of people at sea.

But contemplating people is what a writer does best, and Hamilton-Paterson is a good fly on the wall, as you might expect. Indeed, this is his favorite pose. He stands detached, ironic, a touch resentful and a bit smug (here's where his upper-class prerogative comes in). Life on board ship, with the pettiness of its human hierarchy in miniature, makes him all the more certain that the sea is beyond all that, beyond class, beyond sex, beyond boundaries, even beyond humanity—which gets consistently short shrift. When Hamilton-Paterson describes the transformation of a tiny, rocky Philippine island into a golf, sun, and sex spa for Japanese salarymen, his contempt for greed and mammon burns the page. But this is no environmentalist screed. He balances his outrage with the sad reflection that there's nothing new under the sun; that exploitation and despoliation are as old as humanity itself. So, escape from people: there's the solution, and the writer's revenge. Which is why our man's ultimate escape is to the bottom of the ocean:

Where I have returned from is wonderful beyond anything I've seen before, and partly because it is so spectacularly ungodded, too remote to be anthropomorphized.

At the beginning of Three Miles Down, Hamilton-Paterson describes the chance conversation that takes him on an expedition to haul up bullion from a sunken World War II submarine and ultimately leads him to the ocean floor.

It is October 1994. I am standing in a bar in Italy, trying to have a phone conversation over the noise of two nearby teenagers playing electronic games.…At the other end of the line in far-off Sussex, Quentin Huggett is enigmatic. It sounds as though he were saying "How do you fancy coming on a hunt for sunken treasure?" In the next lull I find he really is.

He hesitates not a second. Indeed, his first thought—an optimistic, therefore revealing one—is that it might mean missing Christmas.

"Mid-December sounds like being away for Christmas," I say hopefully.…To me the idea of missing Christmas and a winter in Europe is pure jam.

Thus speaks Hamilton-Paterson the wanderer, no homo domesticus. Like most of his fellow adventurers, he is fleeing not just the confines of class and England but those of home and hearth—the wife and kids, the nine-to-five—as well. Truth to tell, at times his pose as an outsider grates somewhat on an old bourgeois like me. Indeed, on several occasions in both The Great Deep and Three Miles Down he refers with barely-controlled disdain to the domestic and/or professional preoccupations of his shipmates, who want to catch flights home to be on time for a child's birthday, or Christmas. In one passage from Three Miles Down, commenting on shipboard politics, Hamilton-Paterson elevates himself so far above the quotidian worries of most of us as to sound positively naive:

[I]t has taken a little over a fortnight for a large group of adults to regress to that institutional hugger-mugger one first encountered at boarding school at the age of eight. Gossip, rumour, wounded feelings, send-ups of third parties behind their backs, emotional overkill, people bustling self-importantly from cabin to cabin with the latest titbit, the currying of favour, the dread of displeasure: all the egoistic noise of individuals worried about their hierarchical standing…an edifice which collapses to dust the instant one sets foot on dry land.

Until, of course, the drones reach their offices next morning at nine sharp, when that sad old farce of workaday life starts up again. Welcome to life, James! I know, my sour grapes are showing. Of course he sneers at the quotidian drag; of course he abhors the daily straitjacket of Métro-Boulot-Dodo: Hasn't he devoted his entire life to avoiding it, like any wanderer worth his salt?

Which is why Hamilton-Paterson's latest book, Loving Monsters, is such a letdown, though not at first. As with Three Miles Down, the book opens when chance leads to an assignment. The narrator, an English writer named James—who lives part of the year in Tuscany and the other part in an unnamed country in Asia—runs into his neighbor, Raymond Jerningham Jebb (known as Jayjay), in the local food store in Castiglion Fiorentino, their home base in Italy. Jayjay has a proposition for James, which he puts to him in deprecative terms typical of their mutual origins:

"I'm embarrassed to say this, James," he murmured, "but you're probably going to write my life…I've had rather an exotic life, actually, and I don't believe you'll be bored."

We soon learn that Jayjay is mortally ill and is, therefore, in urgent need of a biographer. He approaches James because they are neighbors, and fellow Englishmen abroad, and because Jayjay thinks he knows his man: "I've read enough of your books to have an idea what might appeal to you," he says. Once the arrangement has been put on a business footing, James accepts the commission, and takes notes for the biography while the old man (he's pushing eighty) talks about his life. James is intrigued and somewhat apprehensive about the assignment.

I am not at all sure yet what to think but am beginning to brace myself to hear the career of a man of action rather than of one who has indulged in a lifetime of Proustian reflectiveness in heavily curtained rooms.

Now, whether or not there is, or was, a real Jayjay, the character Hamilton-Paterson thinks he is presenting us with—an adventurer, wanderer, and lover, a great life-loving sensualist equally at home in the souks of Port Said and the trattorie of Tuscany—bears only a faint resemblance to the somewhat distasteful character who emerges in the course of these pages. It all begins, unsurprisingly, in the stifling milieu of the British middle class. Jayjay grows up in London's burgeoning southeastern suburbs—Eltham, SE9—immediately after the First World War, the only son of a boring but well-meaning bloke with a job in the City keeping the books for a marine insurer, and a religious fanatic of a mother who goes so barmy that life at home becomes well-nigh unbearable. Eventually, Dad decides young Jayjay needs a stint out East and finds him a clerical job in Suez. The boy is only too happy to oblige, for reasons described in prose that would place Hamilton-Paterson in the front rank of literary stylists even if he devoted the rest of his life to writing tourist brochures:

Those East End thoroughfares like East India Dock Road were full of commercial stores and warehouses and godowns.…I have an image, no doubt compounded of several different occasions, which has come to feel like a specific memory. I was in a godown ….[i]t was hot in there and the spices only added to the warmth. There were crates and barrels and boxes and jute sacks piled up in cliffs with only narrow passageways between them….[a]nd on every side were these millions of mysterious berries and leaves, buds and pods, beans and seeds, all giving up their scents at once. My father said something about the smell of tropic suns. I could feel myself becoming drowsier and drowsier, anaesthetised almost. At the same time I was excited. All this produce came from a world completely hidden from me, full of unknown people eating strange foods and living unimaginable lives….But there was something else as well….altogether vaguer, more powerful. It started what I think was a deep restlessness in me. Something akin to longing? That's maybe it, muddled up as it was with schoolboy ideas of roaming the world's seas on endless adventures.

One of the book's virtues—one of the virtues of all of Hamilton-Paterson's writing—is how the spirit of place comes alive. London in the 1920s, with its coal-rank fogs, rattling horse-drawn wagons, dirty muddled streets, and rag-and-bone men, rises from the page in a series of powerful and depressing images of rain and grime and straitened circumstances.

Small wonder that Jayjay goes to Egypt and blossoms in the desert sun. Like a bargain-basement T. E. Lawrence, he discovers a considerable talent for making and exploiting questionable acquaintances in Cairo's demimonde. These avenues lead to a successful career as a pornography middleman, as he culls whatever he deems will satisfy the decadent desires of the Anglo-French colony in Cairo, which often seem to combine orientalism, pederasty, and pedophilia. For Jayjay, it's all part of life's rich tapestry; no hint of morality surfaces, save the notion that the immoral resides primarily in the suppression of one's physical urges. Jayjay prospers and has affairs with both sexes. Then comes the war, and his subsequent career takes him through espionage and black marketeering to an ambivalent friendship with an Italian family in Alexandria. This friendship highlights the ambivalence of his affections in general and points the way to the final revelation of his life's journey, but the novel loses momentum when the narrator interjects an account of a long trip he takes to Asia. This distracts from Jayjay's life, which is after all the main story. Too bad: as an exploration of the biographer's art and a backward glance at the glories of adventure in the shadows of war, Loving Monsters holds out great promise, and almost fulfills it. At its best, it evokes Nabokov's Speak, Memory, that most lyrical of memoirs, and Anthony Burgess's Earthly Powers, in which faith wrestles with temptation. But the theme of self-discovery, so strong elsewhere in Hamilton-Paterson's work, is muted by Jayjay's lack of a moral compass, and the heavy-handed way in which his lifelong "secret" is telegraphed to the reader leaves the impression of somewhat more of a rush job than one has come to expect from a literary craftsman of Hamilton-Paterson's stature and originality. Still, like his other work, Loving Monsters is beautifully written, and its emotional impact is considerable. With all his failings, JayJay is a memorable creation. His story resonates. He's a reprobate, but he's also that Hamilton-Patersonian character, the eternal wanderer, an exile on two levels. He's come a long way from his physical beginnings, but his inner journey, like his creator's, has been an even longer one.

For, throughout his work, it's not just his life's journey from Oxford to Tuscany and the Philippines (and the ocean floor) James Hamilton-Paterson chronicles in beautiful, exuberant prose, but his own inner exile as well, the emotional distance he has traveled from the self-satisfied upper-middle-class existence he might have had. At his best, he is a lyrical writer of old-fashioned emotional and spiritual depth, an Elgar in a world of rock musicians. When he's on top of his game, he transforms all this into art of the highest order. As he says in Playing with Water,

Experiences of great intensity—an especial dream, a period of concentrated work, a sudden absorption, maybe a love-affair—have in common that they are unusually real while they last. Yet it is precisely this quality which so easily vanishes. Afterwards, how unreal it all suddenly seems! We lost ourselves in that dazzling fugue whose importance to us we do not doubt and yet which now is so imaginary. Time which seemed not measurable, so endless, suddenly lapses back into the diurnal and leaves behind it disquiet and longing for a lost intensity.

It's that very longing that Hamilton-Paterson distils for the reader, that inner music he scores so well, because in the end his work is as much about the inner self as the outer. When he sits back on his Philippine island or Tuscan hilltop and sees the world in a grain of sand, and tells us where he's been and where he's going, he bypasses the -isms and topicality of the age. It's our universal journey he contemplates, and he reminds us that in some sense we are all exiles and adventurers. Such universality is apt to seem strange to today's reader, brought up on the narrow genres and flat issues of postmodernism. Indeed, it's something of a revelation. <

Roger Boylan is author of the novel Killoyle, An Irish Farce. His new novel Killoylers will be published in fall 2002.

Originally published in the February/March 2002 issue of Boston Review

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