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Christopher Priest: The Affirmation

Peter Sinclair has reached that age of twenty-nine, when it is time to start re-evaluating where you are and where you are going. At the same time, he loses his job as a pharmaceutical chemist, is thrown out of his flat, breaks up with his girlfriend, Gracia, and his father dies. He then meets up with an old friend, Edwin Miller, who has bought a cottage for his retirement and who lets Sinclair live in it for a while, in return for doing some work on it. He has a lot of work to do on the cottage but, eventually, starts thinking about his life and then decides to start writing his autobiography. Soon”the truth” bothers him and he invents a fictitious place and environment to enable him to get to the deeper truths about his family and himself. Of course, this fictitious autobiography takes over his life completely – he neglects not only the cottage but friends and family, particularly his sister, Felicity – and soon the fictitious life seems much more real than his real life.

We are soon engrossed in Sinclair’s story of Jethra, the fictitious place he invents, and the events that happen there and the people who live there, both of whom mirror but are different from”real” England. And, inevitably, Jethra is far more appealing than England. But real life intrudes, particularly in the form of Felicity and Gracia, and he goes back to England. However, Jethra won’t go away and he swings uneasily between the two. Whether either England or Jethra really exists and which is more real is the theme of this novel and Priest handles it brilliantly.

As in his other novels, Priest is concerned with the idea of what is real and what is not, whether we can trust our senses to show us reality or whether reality is filtered, as Priest clearly maintains, through our imperfect organs. As Wessex in A Dream of Wessex or the Glamour in The Glamour , there is another world out there which we see imperfectly if at all, but it is there. Priest is the one to show us the way there.

Publishing history

First published 1981 by Faber & Faber