‘Cling’ is a novel that explores the transfiguring nature of love. When first encountered, Woman might be ‘the essence of the wonderful’, for Man, his whole ‘horizon and being’. With the gravity of loss comes a bleaker knowing. The veneer of the ideal is peeled away to reveal the disappointing reality of what, probably, was always there. Perhaps it is better to rely on rocks and shorelines and seas. They can never change, mislead or disappoint you. Or, you might transform the woman into a work of art, capture her in paint and there, like Bella Chagall – she can walk in the sky.
There are a number of triangles that entangle the characters. Iain, banker and dealer in fine paintings has married Valerie, the ex-wife of his protégé, the talented artist, Laurie MacPhee. Valerie had first entered Iain’s life in flight from her marriage of a single year, an improbable adventure on a remote Hebridean island. She was seeking help with a stalled MA thesis on those paintings of Chagall inspired by his much abandoned wife, Bella.
The island is Oronsay, a tiny satellite of Colonsay, accessible twice a day across the spectacular gap of The Strand, a magnificent and threatening square kilometre of sand. Oronsay in spring is Eden. This is a time of great permissiveness and the overt sexuality in the writing celebrates an uninhibited love of and loving in places of beauty
Valerie presents her past to Laurie as a collection of poems and other writings that eventually sits at the table’s edge like a threat. Her book un-nerves Laurie in one narrative line as Laurie’s writings un-nerve Iain in another.
Laurie is rooted in this place. The land recognises him; it is a two-way choosing. No amount of intention can make this fallacy work for Valerie. After being tossed through the air by the wind, Valerie’s sense of isolation and alienation grows. ‘Can this geology nourish me?’
With the first light of spring Valerie leaves, saying: ‘I have withered in the sameness of this place.’ Laurie had thrived on its variety.
He would claim to have lost his wife to a landscape and that since ‘In love’ is a place, all sense of belonging. This is an impossible triangle. Could it ever be resolved?
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