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Jim Crace: Six (US: Genesis)

The idea behind this novel is quite clever, though I am not entirely sure Crace pulls it off. Felix Dern (known as Lix) lives in an unspecified, presumably fictional country. We know that it is not Britain, France or Italy. We know that the capital city had been called City of Balconies by Rousseau and is now known as City of Kisses, though it does not seem to be Switzerland, as would be likely with the Rousseau association. It is a fairly repressive police state but also a democracy of sorts. It had its Sixties in the early 1980s when there was, for a short period, a thaw, called the Laxity. If there is a hinterland or a part of the country outside the capital, we do not know about it. Travel in and out of the country seems to be relatively free.

Lix has a problem, which is his fertility. He has had sex with five women and has made each one pregnant, one of them twice. The book starts with his sixth impregnation, the woman being Mouetta, his second wife. By this time he is a famous actor, both theatre and cinema (including several Hollywood films). There are student attacks going on and the police, with their usual severity, are surrounding the city and blocking off bridges, preventing people from getting home. Lix and Mouetta, who have just been out (and seen Mouetta’s cousin, Freda, mother of Lix’s second child, George) are blocked. Matters are complicated as Freda is arrested, nominally for not having an up to date ID card, but also because she was aggressive with a police officer. Moreover, her latest lover, a young man who has committed a minor terrorist act, is hiding out in her office in the university. She asks Lix and Mouetta to free him but they are unable to get through the police cordon surrounding the university. Instead, like many others, they have to park their car in a local park, where they stay overnight. During the night Lix becomes frisky and he and Mouetta have sex (without contraception) and Mouetta becomes pregnant. (Side note: haven’t any of these people heard of contraception? Apparently not.)

We then flash back to Lix’s previous impregnations, starting with a casual fuck with an older woman, whom he never sees again, which produces Bel, whom he never knows, though the novel ends with Bel who thinks one day she may introduce herself and her child to Lix. Freda is his second. They are part of a left-wing student group at university and are discussing what to do for the arrival of a well-known industrialist to the campus. In a piece of bravado and to impress Freda, Lix suggests kidnapping him, holding him for a while and recording his admission of guilt to various crimes, before letting him go. Freda thinks she can use Lix and might even enjoy a bit of sex with him. The plan goes wrong when the Polish authorities repress the striking workers in Gdansk. A Pole who had never been to Poland fires a gun at the Polish mission, which happens to be next to the university. The industrialist declines to attend the university and the police surround it. There is no kidnapping but Freda is impregnated. They have an affair for a month. Once Freda realises that she is pregnant, Lix is dumped and firmly told that he will have nothing to do with the child (to which he readily agrees).

Alicja, daughter of very well-off Polish immigrants, was part of the kidnap plot. It is not for seven years that she and Lix get together (during which time, neither had had sex with anyone else). Eventually they marry. A major flood hits the city and their apartment at the top of the building becomes their hideout, even though they are urged by the authorities and Alicja’s father to leave. Of course they have sex (standing up) and, of course, Alicja gets pregnant. We move forward a few years. The pair are still married but everything has changed. Lix is now a successful actor and Alicja a senator. Their marriage is on the rocks. They rarely have sex, though Alicja is having sex with a local journalist, a good friend of Lix, unknown to Lix. A cutting remark made by Alicja to Lix at a party leads to one final apology fuck which results in another pregnancy and a divorce. Number five is his leading lady, a one off and done the same night he meets both George and Mouetta for the first time.

It’s quite clever and quite cute but perhaps a bit too clever and too cute. It is possibly meant to show different forms of relationships. Alicja Mark 1 and Mouetta may be subordinate to Lix but the other five (including Alicja Mark 2) are definitely in charge, both as regards sex and everything else. There is little about the nature of relationships, particularly as the focus is invariably on the impregnation, and little to show that Lix has learned anything, not even about the benefits of contraception. He certainly does not seem to have learned anything about relationships or women. It’s fun and light-hearted but not a great novel.

Publishing history

First published 2003 by Viking