Vincent Canby

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Julian Barnes

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[There's] much generic ambiguity about Vincent Canby's [Living Quarters]: the crime, victim and culprit are swiftly identified, and the book sets off in a series of ever-retreating flashbacks to root out the social and psychological background to the event. Daisianna turns out to be an archetypal American whore/bitch/goddess, pill-slugging, schizophrenic, religioso, selfish and idle; her friends and family are scarcely less neurotically self-indulgent. Even straight Jimmy Barnes, Daisianna's lawyer, who actively seeks an exciting life, turns out to have a wrecky streak, and is laid low by alcohol, troilism and divorce. The flashbacks eventually (if bafflingly) reach flash-back-of-beyond with an ancestor's journal; and we wait for Mr. Canby to drop his tone of glazed detachment and lay a moral on us. Jimmy runs into it on an archaeological site. Pondering on a handy cross-section of the dig, he is told that there are 17 different periods of human habitation represented there. Some layers have been squashed down by later generations into a mere 15 inches of clay. It's quite a thought. (p. 285)

Julian Barnes, in New Statesman (© 1976 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), February 20, 1976.

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