Eva Figes Robert Nye - Essay

Robert Nye

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One of the more important jobs a novelist does—often to the useful discomfort of his readers—is surely to create the moment from inside, vividly, patiently, admitting every ounce of its current ambiguity, so that his sentences read like heart beats. Such a richness of life going on, actually being lived from one word to another, is well approached in "Winter Journey." This is Eva Figes's second novel; I missed the first, "Equinox," but on the strength and sensitivity of her latest work I'd place her immediately as a writer to be watched. She goes beyond gesture to fix the most fugitive movements of existence in a pattern true to themselves. She allows nothing, in a very short book, to distract her attention from what she perceives to be essential. She is a real realist—and offers much that seems threatening to one's necessarily limited experience of "reality."

"Winter Journey" takes shape in the mind of an old man, Janus, living out the last days of his life in a London house. Janus is ignorant and bitter: "a dull head among windy spaces." Eliot's "Gerontion" makes a pertinent point of reference, as does that empathy for the impotence of extreme age found in some of Beckett's finest writing. Miss Figes gives us a man who has unearthed no peace in the accumulation of experience; his thoughts are stupid, his feelings flow in a cloudy stream of images inspired by needs he has never satisfied…. [All] the odds and sods of Janus's...

(The entire section is 429 words.)