THEREC OMES A point in the career of a male novelist when his thoughts turn to sex. In between mid-life crisis and old age – when, perhaps, his sexual prowess no longer matches his libidinous imagination – he has the urge to put his fantasies into his fiction. He casts himself (disguised, of course) as bedroom hero, with young lovelies fding over one another to soothe his grumbling appendage. We’ve all read these novels, and I don’t intend to name the culprits. Not even Philip Roth. Let me also state that I know nothing of Jim Crace’s love life. But, reading the jacket blurb of his new book, I groaned at the prospect of an addition to the genre. ‘Every woman he dares to sleep with bears his child … to be so fertile is a curse.’ Cue fiftysomething Crace as Superdick, I thought. I should have known better. Crace – a subtle, thoughtful, often brilliant writer – has never been one to thrust his ego into the story. There is a further clue in the wording of the blurb: Felix Dern, hero of Six, may be ‘fertile’, but this is not the same as being virile. In fact, Felix, or Lix, is a let-down in the sack. He has sired six children by five women, but has no more sense of his sexual identity, or purpose (beyond the biological), in his late forties than he had when he lost his virginity at twenty-one. So what shapes up to be the tale of a rampant lothario turns out to be anythmg but.