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Adam Lively: Sing the Body Electric: A Novel in Five Movements

When this book came out, its author was heralded one of the Best 20 Young Novelists by Granta and the book got a lot of reviews. And then it all seemed to go pear-shaped. Lively did not produce another novel and the book went out of print and disappeared off most radar screens, as other, trendier novels pushed to the fore. This is a pity as this is a very fine novel and definitely worthy of your consideration. It’s one of those fashionable set-in-an-unnamed-possibly-Eastern-European-country novels (see, for example, The Unconsoled or The Insult). It is also set in the future (specifically 2064).

Paul Clearwater is a composer and has gone to Wellfleet (based on Hastings) in this unspecified country. The seaside location is important to the novel and to Clearwater. He has gone for his music and to work with the local orchestra. However, he first gets embroiled in the local politics (helping poor fishermen) and, of course, in a series of complex social relationships. But then things start to get more complicated – the strange doings in the city, Paul’s difficult relationships and, in particular, his struggles with his art. Lively succeeds in giving us a dark, Kafkaesque semi-science fiction novel successfully married to a complex study of artistic creation. Perhaps it is too dark or too complex for many readers, as there is no clear, linear plot but, in my view, it remains sadly underestimated and we can only hope that Lively takes up novel writing again.

Publishing history

First published in 1993 by Chatto & Windus