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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Caves of Alienation

Stuart Evans

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Caves of Alienation

Title: The Caves of Alienation
Author: Stuart Evans
Genre: Novel
Written: 1977
Length: 592 pages
Availability: The Caves of Alienation - US
The Caves of Alienation - UK
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  • With a Foreword by Duncan Bush

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Our Assessment:

B : a creative fictional author portrait

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
new welsh review . Winter/2009 James A. Davies
The Times . 17/5/1977 Philip Howard
TLS . 11/3/1977 Roger Garfitt

  From the Reviews:
  • "But the send-up of art programmes like Omnibus and the gobbets of the higher literary criticism ranging from Marxist to mythomanic, finding Philoctetes lurking behind every arrow, are devastating, and make reviewing the book an uneasy business. But it is structurally and intellectually a complex book and an entertaining one" - Philip Howard, The Times

  • "To create a polyphony of so many different styles and forms in one book would be a major achievement: sadly Mr Evans has not brought it off. " - Roger Garfitt, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Caves of Alienation is a pastiche-novel, presenting a portrait of the fictional Welsh-born author Michael Caradock (a writer who also is described as: "always experimenting with forms, ideas"). It consists of excerpts from numerous sources, ranging from the 'official biography' to studies of Caradock's work to television and radio programs about him, and also includes many excerpts from both his fiction and his essays. At nearly 600 pages the resulting work looks quite massive, but in the constant shifts between the various sources (and voices) and Caradock's sufficiently interesting life (and then seeing how his life-experiences are transformed in his art), The Caves of Alienation is a surprisingly quick and quite entertaining read.
       Caradock's violent death, and the circumstances surrounding it, are noted early on, but little detail is provided; the story proceeds relatively chronologically, working its way through Caradock's life and work until his demise. The back and forth between accounts of his life -- ranging from the gossipy and opinionated to the circumspect -- and Caradock's fiction is quite well done, as the author is presented as someone whose work is strongly rooted in his own biography. The speculation just how much biography has been reworked into the fiction is one of the main points of debate among the various commentators -- though he's the kind of writer where: "the various critics have found in Caradock's work what they wanted to find". As to his literary stature, there is great debate about that too; obviously most of those writing about him think his work significant -- but there's still room here for opinions such as:

He was not a very original or remarkable writer, although he was a pretty accomplished literary conman.
       Caradock lost his parents at a very young age, and was raised by overprotective relatives. A good but somewhat lazy student, he would eventually go to Oxford -- but not before having an affair with a local teacher who helped him with his Latin and Greek. He also interrupted his studies at Oxford, to do his National Service (which he was not particularly well-suited for, but did provide more material for a book), but eventually returned to complete his studies. Wealthy enough not to need to take a real job, he fairly single-mindedly pursued his writing career, and enjoyed reasonable success from the time his first collection of stories was published while he was still a student.
       There are extensive selections not only from Caradock's fiction but also his essays, as Evan tries to create a complete portrait. Among the writers that influenced him greatly are Joyce (with Caradock a big fan of Finnegans Wake), Camus, and Sartre (especially the fiction, though he is bothered by "his increasingly political preoccupation, achieved at the expense of his art"). Philosophy also interests him, but he's most drawn to mythology, superimposing it on his own life:
     You have to remember this tendency that Michael Caradock had towards obsession. He made up myths about himself and, as you might expect, retained accordingly an elaborate equipment of symbols and personalised imagery which he saw as motifs, if you like, in his life.
       These motifs -- especially as reflected in his relationships with women -- do reappear throughout the work, and Evans does a fine job of presenting a fairly convincing portrait of a man and his writing. The heavy mythology can get quite burdensome, as well, however: Caradock is an author whose later works include novels titled Promethead and the posthumous Laocoön. (Usefully, there's an Appendix that provides a 'Detailed Synopsis of Caradock's Work', which allows for an easier overview of the various books and essays, making for a useful complement to the excerpts strewn throughout the book.)
       It's all quite entertaining, but The Caves of Alienation isn't entirely a success. Not all of Caradock's works convince -- and the excerpt-presentation can be wearing with some of the less accomplished ones. The layers of commentary are quite well done, but also ultimately not as revealing as one might wish; Evans' focus on particular building-blocks of what made this man can feel too much like an artificial construct, and at times one longs for a simpler presentation -- just David Hayward's official biography, for example.
       Evans does have good fun with all of it, especially in needling the literary establishment, and in the different ways Caradock is remembered and the different interpretations of both his life and art; there's much of this fun for the reader here, too, but, bookishly clever though The Caves of Alienation is, it's just not quite clever (or seamless or artful) enough.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 September 2011

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The Caves of Alienation: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       British author Stuart Evans lived 1934 to 1994.

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© 2011 the complete review

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