Both the front and back covers of Scarred Hearts carry a passionate endorsement from Paul Bailey: ‘A masterpiece’. Now, readers, we all have our favourite critics, and one of mine is Paul Bailey. Whenever I have fallen in serious literary love – with Jean Rhys, with Primo Levi – Paul has got there before me. I would have liked to follow him again with Max Blecher, who wrote three short books before dying of TB of the spine at only twenty-nine. Scarred Hearts is indeed impressive – intense, original, disturbing. But a masterpiece, no. Rather, it is what you might expect: a striking early work by someone who might have written a masterpiece one day.
In the first chapter you think that Bailey is right. A young man, Emanuel, sits in a dim waiting room crossed by shadows that turn out to be swollen black fish in an aquarium. The doctor appears like a mole from its lair. In a room full of machines he