Delirium Eclipse and Other Stories Critical Essays

James Lasdun

Delirium Eclipse and Other Stories

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Most of Lasdun’s characters are driven by the need to possess or escape powers or pressures that threaten the equilibrium of normal behavior. Lasdun’s brilliant use of imagery and sensuous description provides a stylistic analogue to the intensity of feeling running through all these stories.

The title story is a lavishly observed study of one of the most exotic cities in the world, Varanasi (also known as Banaras), the fabled holy city of India. The main character, a shallow young agronomist, combines the courting of a beautiful girl with field work in developing India’s agriculture. His vanity succumbs to a terrible illness which identifies him, body and soul, with the vertigo of smells, sights, and sounds that constitute India.

In another story, “Escapes,” Lasdun switches perspectives and dramatizes the effect of the Western world on a black professor. After a strained but friendly evening with a “Nordic” girl in Paris, he leaves her at her doorstep and hurries to catch the last Metro to his hotel room. Failing to find an exit at his station, he thrashes about in endless corridors of white tile before finally breaking out of what has become a terrifying trap.

Perhaps the most astonishing story in the collection is “The Siege.” A young girl from a nameless totalitarian country does domestic service for a London bachelor, a musician surrounded by precious objects d’art. He declares his love for the girl, who promptly tells him that she is married and that her husband is a political prisoner in her homeland. Piece by piece, he sells his possessions, including the great piano on which he plays hypnotic pieces that gradually seduce the girl, to finance the husband’s release. The bachelor and girl become lovers the very morning her husband’s taxi arrives.

If these stories seem to take the reader’s breath away, it is primarily because of their language. Their sinuous style and powerful phrasing possess readers as surely as the stories’ characters are swept up in their fictional fate.