John Barth: Sabbatical
Sabbatical it certainly seems to be for it’s almost as though Barth had taken time off from his real novel-writing work to produce this novel. It is about a sailing trip round the Caribbean by Fenwick Turner, former CIA agent who has written a book critical of the agency, and his wife, Susan Seckler, a teacher of American literature. Like Barth, both are twins. Their sabbatical has been to decide on their future, both as regards their careers and whether to have a child. Barth brings in the real world into this novel more than he has done in his previous work. Turner’s work cannot be ignored. His twin brother and son have both disappeared in mysterious circumstances while Seckler’s twin sister was raped by Iranian secret police. (It all makes you wonder what Barth’s relationship is with his twin sister.) But, sympathetic though they are, I could not get excited by this couple. Maybe you have to like messing around on boats. Maybe it is because Barth’s wit and literary games have taken a sabbatical in this novel. At the end, I didn’t care at all whether they lived happily ever after or not.
First published 1982 by Putnam