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The Law of Enclosures
Dale Peck

The Law of Enclosures
Dale Peck
Chatto & Windus
London 1996

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"The line of words I am forbidden to write spins around my body in an endless spiral."

If art is to make sense of the world, then it does so through releasing the forbidden words that spiral in all of us. Dale Peck’s second novel is a brave and moving attempt to write the forbidden, through fiction and through memoir. His fictional exploration of a marriage cocoons the forbidden narrative of his own parents marriage, providing a narrative safety net that dominates the book.

Beatrice and Henry’s marriage is presented as two separate narratives, their courtship years and early marriage set against the post-retirement years. These intertwined narratives go back and forth showing the growth and disintegration of their marriage in a disrupted time-scheme. The sense of alienation between the young and older couple is highlighted by a change of names – Beatrice to Bea, Henry to Hank.

When they first meet, Henry is dying. Their love grows from the anticipation of his death, and when cheated of it, their relationship loses its fundamental meaning. Unfulfilled lives unfold around and before them. In terms of life, the narrative peaked too soon. A decision to move near a widowed friend and build a house provides a focus for their warring needs as each day the builders get different orders. The final result is a building of great oddity, with staircases going nowhere, doors leading to nothing. The somewhat miraculous retrieval of their initial passion is played out with great delicacy within the confines of their metaphorical new home.

At its centre, this novel is an exploration of family alienation. Henry and Beatrice’s slow dance of attrition is the counterpoint to the essential lack of real narrative in any given life as exemplified in Peck’s own memoir. Art imposes order, even if only to reveal an essential disarray. The Law of Enclosures sits firmly in the realist tradition of the modern American novel; beautifully structured, the one flaw could be said to be the fundamental coldness at the heart of his protagonists and their lives, a coldness Peck masks by importing the fire of his own experience. An essential lack of sympathy slightly muffles Peck’s otherwise impressive achievement.

Reviewed by Sara Rance


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