Edge of the Orison: In the Traces of John Clare’s ‘Journey out of Essex’ by Iain Sinclair - review by Ronald Blythe

Ronald Blythe

Enchanting Excursion

Edge of the Orison: In the Traces of John Clare’s ‘Journey out of Essex’


Hamish Hamilton 371pp £25

This is the age of finding out who you were, and the country record offices buzz with rural claimants. Every Tom and Harriet is queuing up to trace his or her bloodlines on the microfilm. What the majority discover there is for family consumption only, and it needs a poet-novelist-bookman such as Iain Sinclair to transform this popular hobby into literature. He has what Hazlitt used to call ‘gusto’, not to mention nerve, as he marries the tracings of his own wife’s family with John Clare’s haunting letter to his ‘wife’ Mary Joyce, telling her how he had escaped from Matthew Allen’s asylum in Epping Forest. But she had long been dead. (Patty, the woman he had officially wed, had fetched him home in a cart for the last mile or two.) 

Iain Sinclair had been reading Deirdre Bair’s Samuel Beckett when he ‘came to understand how relationships are based on shared topography, not mere accidents of blood’. His wife’s ancestors, the Hadmans, had shared John Clare’s and Mary Joyce’s landscape of love, poetry and natural history, although we do not have

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