Section 10 - 1984
Book Review - The Affirmation
(page 5/8)



If Brian Aldiss is a writer of science fiction, then Chris Priest is a writer, full stop (this is perhaps borne out by his inclusion in the "Ten Best Young British Authors" List). I would like to think that, in ten years time Chris Priest's writing might be favourably compared to Graham Greene's. But, it seems, being a writer in this genre is more of a disadvantage than an advantage (and, perhaps, also being British as both Priest and Aldiss are) in terms of acknowledgement of talent.

The Affirmation is about the perception of reality, as is the majority of Priest's writing (with the inevitable exception of the "Space Machine", which is a most amusing novel, thoroughly recommended ta anyone who has read the "Time Machine" or "The War Of The Worlds" by H.G. Wells). But, while it is something external to the mind which effects its perception of reality in "The Dream of Wessex", "Inverted World" and "Indoctrinaire", in the Affirmation it is the mind itself which is at fault. The problem then arises as to which reality is real - who is mad? Those in the asylums or those in the streets (even now there is some doubt in my mind.)

The book is written in the first person, this being Peter Sinclair. It is suggested that he is writing the book as some form of record but there is uncertainty from the opening paragraphs. The beginning is mundane enough; Sinclair, after the shock of losing his job, the death of his father and a failed love affair decides to opt for the peace and quiet of a cottage in the depths of Herefordshire. Here he starts to write his autobiography but he finds that for the narrative to succeed he has to change details and names until the autobiography is transmuted into a story set in the imaginary Dream Archipelago.

Reality starts to fail at this point: which is the more accurate representation of his life, the story or the reality? Things become confused. Sinclair is all the time struggling with which he should choose, as the parameters which define his world become more and more unclear, until in the end there is no doubt in his mind. It is the ambiguity of the book which held me; does Sinclair descend into madness or ascend into reality.

The ambiguity is further entranced by the fact that the fantasy (?) world of the story is a world which Priest has used for the setting of some of his short stories. There is no suggestion that what you are reading is not reality (within the context of the story). Thus to accept the Dream Archipelago as Sinclair's fantasy world destroys the reality of Priest's previous stories in that world. Perhaps the mundane world of the cottage in Herefordshire, of Felicity and Gracia and London, is Sinclair's escape from the reality of the Archipelago and Seri.