Norman Mailer’s new novel opens with a sequence so good you believe for a moment he may have written the book his friends and critics agreed was inside him. On the coast of Maine, lyrically described, there is a car smash, a house, two women, a ghost, sex, an air of menace and a series of narrative volte-face. The novel promises private lives and public history played out on a vast scale. Its opening has the tempo and richness demanded by its length and the seriousness of its themes.
The sex is important. The main character, Harry Hubbard, a CIA man in late middle age, is married to a woman called Kittredge and has a mistress called Chloe. 'My mistress's kisses are like taffy, soft and sticky, endlessly wet. From high school on, Chloe had doubtless been making love with her mouth to both ends of her friends. Her groove was a marrow of good grease.' Mailer's descriptions are unreformed by political correctness. Hubbard's sexual experiences have the author's characteristic mixture of vigour and disgust. His first encounter with a woman evokes images of marine exhaustion. Mailer's characters always seem unfortunate in this department: it seems only yesterday we were reading