Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

Edge of the Orison

Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

Edge of the Orison

Article excerpt

Edge of the Orison. By IAIN SINCLAIR. London: Hamish Hamilton. 2005. 385 pp. £16.99.

I have a vague memory of a description (by Neville Cardus?) of the bowling of W. J. Edrich (Middlesex and England) that went something like: 'He bowls like a rushing mighty wind, kicking up the dust and leaves as he runs in'. When I had finished reading Edge of the Orison I felt that Sinclair's writing was similar. I was breathless with the speed, the variety, the diversions, the vivid and unusual descriptions and the many 'asides'.

The main thread is, of course, John Clare's journey from Essex but woven into this journey are other stories, especially that of the author's wife, Anna, in search of her ancestors from the geographical area of Clare's country. There is no logical sequence, no boring description of the journey from start to finish. After a brief introduction to those who shared the walk Sinclair is in Stilton: 'Clare arrived at Stilton, as we did, on the evening of his third day of walking; lamed, filthy and hallucinating. He starved, tearing handfuls of grass from the side of the road. We breakfasted, full English. He chewed tobacco.'

Sinclair admits that Clare's walk up the Great North Road had been an obsession for a long time. This was then combined with the fact that his wife had attended the village school in Clinton. So memories of Anna's childhood become part of the search for the past. Later Anna is described, even as a child, as the 'still point in an outrageous family'.

Clare's cottage, which has recently been acquired by a Trust in order to preserve the memory of Clare and to be a focus for future scholars, writers and artists, is vividly described: '...so Clare's Helpston cottage has shaken off its menial status, its smokey, small-windowed darkness. It stands back from the road as an extended white block, hung with flower baskets like a Routier-recommended restaurant. Roses climb the walls.'

The chapter on Clare's London visits is flowing with references to other poets and the famous. In the midst of these names (Keats, Hazlit, Pepys, Johnson, Donne...) and the strangeness of the city, Sinclair gives a vivid insight into Clare's feelings: 'Walking. Watching. Drowning. Clare couldn't delete what he knew, his seven-mile circuit of Northamptonshire countryside, by crouching at a Fleet Street window'.

Sinclair's focus on certain places is never confined just to Clare's association. In Epping Forest we are reminded of Tennyson's stay there, of T. …

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