“Powerful stuff” – Victory by James Lasdun

“Is there something wrong in my being moved by this creature? she’d wondered. Something naïve? False? Sentimental? She didn’t think so, but she was peculiarly moved by it. Its calm acceptance of her; the attentive gaze of its eye as she came close…”

This is a quote from relatively early on in ‘Feathered Glory’, one of two novellas (along with ‘Afternoon of a Faun’, which was released separately in the US) in Victory. We’re hearing from Sara, who has a sideline in looking after injured animals – the animal in question here being the swan that graces the cover of the book. It’s worth reading that quote again because it’s quite similar to the reaction I had reading this book.

‘Feathered Glory’ concerns a married couple, Richard and Sara, and the faultlines that appear in the wake of a friend Victor’s gallivanting (leaving one partner for another); ‘Afternoon of a Faun’ focuses even more closely on toxic masculinity, with an accusation of historic sexual assault destabilising the world of an English journalist living in New York. Like Mary Gaitskill’s recent This is Pleasure, ‘Afternoon of a Faun’ explores a deeply sensitive issue with complexity and nuance.

And yes, each story manages the difficult trick of standing alone and commenting, in a complementary way, upon the story its paired with. Taken together, the book also functions as a highly polished mirror held up by Lasdun to the increasingly binary world in which we find ourselves – and, one imagines, is likely to provoke those people who champion a binary position. What’s more, and in keeping with his last couple of books (The Fall Guy and Give Me Everything You Have), Lasdun’s powers seem to be growing: there are frequent occasions throughout Victory when you can’t help but be reminded of Philip Roth. We say this as a compliment although, again, we realise that there are people who don’t rate Roth; but Lasdun, like Roth, is interrogating masculinity in a way that is deeply compelling and true.

Any Cop?: Like Sara with her swan, Victory is a book that quietly bewitched me, whose eyes followed me around the room. It’s powerful stuff, a substantial read that thrums with the sense of a writer really engaging with the world in which we find ourselves.

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