Peter Bradshaw

Desperate liaison

Its heroine, fuelled by alcohol, is ruined by a passionate illicit affair. Is this a barely disguised version of the author’s recent past?

Six years ago, the Canadian author Clancy Martin made a splash with his autobiographical novel How to Sell, based on the hard-drinking years he spent as a jewellery salesman before going to college and beginning the brilliant academic career he currently enjoys as a philosopher. Now he has come up with a weird, densely focused novella about an adulterous affair being pursued by an alcoholic female writer, who is the one doing the narrating. It’s beside the point to wonder if this too is autobiographical. In his acknowledgements, Martin thanks the people who ‘together convinced me to rewrite what began as a memoir into fiction’. As ever, there is incidental interest in wondering how and where that transformation has been achieved, and if the author is in complete conscious control of the process.

Brett — the name’s gender-ambiguity is remarked upon on at one stage — is a hugely esteemed novelist. She is married to a colossally successful real-estate developer called Paul, who is extending his portfolio of luxury hotels throughout Central America. They live in Mexico City and both are on second marriages. Brett is a reasonably successful stepmother to Paul’s sons from his previous relationship; she also has to deal with Paul’s needy, childlike, pathetically boozy old father.

But Brett is bored. She has quit drinking, which has caused her creative juices to dry up. So she is ripe for adventure on meeting Paul’s suave banker Eduard, a lethally handsome man resembling Benicio Del Toro, and begins a crazily indiscreet affair with him. Their marathon sex sessions
reignite her destructive passion for alcohol, and Brett gets her writerly mojo back:

I wrote a story about a man who kills a Mexican prostitute. Then I wrote one about an effeminate old man who falls in love with a 20-year-old.

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