Virginia Barton

Flair with words not enough

Catholic Herald, 4 January 1991               


Review: As In Music by Kathy Page (Methuen, £13.99)


asinmusic450Does the exhibition of man’s baser nature, in any of the arts, contribute to the progress, well-being, or pleasure of humanity? Is literature served by graphic description of these base deeds and instincts?

When is immorality or evil acceptable in literature or indeed any of the arts?

I ask these questions because I am baffled by this book. The subject matter is generally  repellent – and yet Kathy Page writes well. The subject matter in Madame Bovary or The Bonfire of the Vanities is equally repellent, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either book to the adult reader.

Why? Because they are great writers? What is this quality of greatness that succeeds in lifting repugnant themes to an acceptable level?

The fine line that divides literature from pornography perhaps defies description. Certainly critics have spilt ink if not blood over the question.

I find myself affronted and indignant with As In Music, a collection of stories by an author whose work has been well reviewed by such heavies as Malcolm Bradbury and Maggie Gee.

Yes, Kathy Page has talent. She writes with style, feeling, and, occasionally, as in The Silver Man, with real pathos. But to this reviewer a flair with words just isn’t enough.



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