Friday 4 October 2019

Forgotten Book - Twisted Clay

Twisted Clay by Frank Walford was in its day a very controversial novel - banned in the author's native Australia for a quarter of a century or so. It was originally published in 1933, but it certainly bears little or no resemblance to anything written by, say Christie, Sayers, or Marsh. I came across mention of the book on the blogosphere, on the admirable Pretty Sinister Books, if I remember rightly, and duly sought out a recent reprint from Remain Books.

This is one of those old novels that benefits enormously from being set in context, and the Remain edition does that job splendidly, as well as being very nicely produced. Johnny Mains explains what led him to bring the novel back to life; Jim Smith provides an account of the author's career; and James Doig explains the story of the book's reception. All this material, not over-long, I found valuable.

And the story? Well, it's a first person narrative, and Walford daringly adopts the voice of a teenage lesbian who graduates from minor misdemeanours into serial murder. One can certainly argue that the handling of the issue of sexual orientation is rather crude and simplistic, rather as well-meaning attempts by other writers at the time to tackle race issues can often seem inept to readers with a 21st century perspective. The handling of mental instability was also, for me, unsatisfactory. But Walford's ambition is undeniable, and his book certainly has both power and readability, features which go some way to compensating for other defects.

One thing is for sure. There is nothing "cosy" about Twisted Clay. I'm not even sure that "dark" does it justice. I read it very quickly, and I tend to feel that's the best way to tackle a story of such concentrated unpleasantness. It's no literary masterpiece, but it's historically (at least) very interesting. Not for everyone, I suspect, but worth a look if you're intrigued by the way crime writers have tackled morbid psychology down the years. 

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