Sinclair, Clive 1948-

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SINCLAIR, Clive 1948-

(Clive John Sinclair)

PERSONAL: Born February 19, 1948, in London, England; son of David (a director) and Betty (a home-maker; maiden name, Jacobovitch) Sinclair; married Fran Redhouse (a teacher), November 2, 1979 (died, 1994); children: Seth Benjamin. Education: University of East Anglia, B.A., 1969, Ph.D., 1983; attended University of CaliforniaSanta Cruz, 1969–70. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, football, letter-writing.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Deborah Rogers, 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN, England.

CAREER: Young & Rubicam, London, copywriter, 1973–76; University of California, Santa Cruz, visiting lecturer in literature, 1980–81; Jewish Chronicle, London, England, literary editor, 1983–87. British Council guest writer in residence at Uppsala University, Sweden, 1988.

MEMBER: International PEN, Society of Authors, Royal Society of Literature (fellow).

AWARDS, HONORS: Bicentennial Arts fellowship from the British Council, 1980; Somerset Maugham Award from the Society of Authors, 1981, for Hearts of Gold; named one of the top twenty young British novelists by the British Book Marketing Council, 1983; grant from Arts Council of Great Britain, 1984; British Library Penguin Writer's Fellow, 1995–96; Jewish Quarterly Prize for fiction, 1997; PEN Silver Pen for fiction, 1997.

WRITINGS:

Bibliosexuality (novel), Allison & Busby (London, England), 1973.

Hearts of Gold (short stories), Allison & Busby (London, England), 1979, Schocken (New York, NY), 1982.

Bedbugs (short stories), Allison & Busby (London, England), 1982, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 2005.

The Brothers Singer (biography), Schocken (New York, NY), 1983.

Blood Libels (novel), Allison & Busby (London, England), 1985, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1986.

Diaspora Blues: A View of Israel, Heinemann (London, England), 1987.

Cosmetic Effects (novel), Deutsch (London, England), 1989, Viking (New York, NY), 1990.

Augustus Rex (novel), Deutsch (London, England), 1992, Penguin (New York, NY), 1993.

The Lady with the Laptop (short stories), Picador (London, England), 1996.

For Good or Evil, Picador (London, England), 1998.

Meet the Wife, Picador (London, England), 2002.

Contributor to periodicals, including Encounter, Times Literary Supplement, Independent, and Guardian.

SIDELIGHTS: Clive Sinclair has received widespread praise for his innovative short fiction. Critics have compared Sinclair to such acclaimed authors as Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Joseph Heller, Vladimir Nabokov, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Sinclair's stories are particularly known for their extended puns, sexually suggestive witticisms, and wry cynicism. They feature unusual narrators, and often draw on Jewish history and tradition.

Sinclair's first book, Bibliosexuality, was published when the author was just twenty-five years old. The novel's title refers to a disorder of the senses that causes a desire for an unnatural relationship with a book. The novel did not fare particularly well among British critics, but Malcolm Bradbury did remark in the Times Literary Supplement that it "promised an exciting talent." Sinclair's next book was a collection of short stories titled Hearts of Gold. It included a bizarre array of narrators, such as Transylvanian vampires, a Jewish giraffe, sexual fantasists, and Joshua Smolinsky, a second-rate private eye who functions as a recurring Jewish character and Sinclair's alter ego. This book brought acclaim to the author and prompted Los Angeles Times book editor Art Seidenbaum to state that Sinclair was a writer with "a gift." He found Sinclair's daring admirable, commenting that "nothing is too raw [for Sinclair] to risk." The same brash humor and foundation in Jewish folklore that had distinguished Sinclair's earlier works was also much in evidence in Bedbugs, the author's second short story volume.

In 1983 Sinclair ventured into a new genre. The Brothers Singer is a biographical and critical study of the Polish-born Jewish writers Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Nobel laureate, and Israel Joshua Singer, both of whom immigrated to America in the mid-1930s. The book highlights the religious, political, and cultural influences that shaped the Singers and points to the differences between the two brothers: apolitical Bashevis wrote, in Yiddish, sensuous short stories of human conflict; Joshua wrote skeptical anti-Stalinist novels and, unlike his brother, became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Some reviewers faulted The Brothers Singer for its limited scope and excessive attention to Joshua, but Anthony Quinton, writing in the London Times, deemed the book "enlightening on the cultural crisis for the Jews of Europe that long preceded the hyperbolic catastrophe of Hitler."

Sinclair returned to fiction in 1985 with the politically-charged novel Blood Libels. Linda Taylor noted in the Times Literary Supplement that "the plot and counter-plots crackle with violent lusts and macabre accidents ghoulishly described, and related, directly or obliquely, to a wider world." Two years later the author published Diaspora Blues: A View of Israel, a nonfiction work that focuses on Jews living outside Israel, their ambivalence toward Israeli politics, and their relationship to the Jews living within the state of Israel.

Meet the Wife contains two novellas. The title piece is a retelling of the myth of Odysseus's journey to the underworld, and its companion, "The Naked and the Dead," is a reworking of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Sinclair "revisits these stories in the terrain of denatured postmodernity, letting the bones of the originals jut through the flimsy settings of an international here and now," reported Sean O'Brien in the Times Literary Supplement. "The effect is an imaginative dissonance which brings an archetypal grandeur within hailing distance while indicating, almost to the last, its inaccessibility." In "Meet the Wife," a reporter named Pumpkin serves as narrator. Though he is turned into a pig and must confront the denizens of the underworld, Pumpkin remains for the most part cheerful and unruffled as he journeys through this tale, which shows "a marvellous sense of the surreal," according to New Statesman contributor Matthew Jennings. "The Naked and the Dead" is set in contemporary California, and concerns the narrator and his cancer-stricken wife. O'Brien found this story somewhat less successful, particularly because of the introduction of confusing material concerning Wyatt Earp, the legendary Western lawman. Nevertheless, O'Brien concluded, Meet the Wife still is worth reading for its "rich, strange, unyielding and impressive tales."

Sinclair once told CA: "Why do I write? I am still looking for the answer. My speculations, of course, are my stories. I began as an amateur, but my seductive letters gradually turned into fiction, and I became a professional; I have, however, tried to retain the colloquial tone of those letters. Likewise, my subject matter remains a mixture of the personal and historical, the history being that of the Jews. Being English I look at the Holocaust and Israel as an inside-outsider.

"After the death of my wife I didn't know if I would ever be able to read fiction again, let alone write it. My mind was monopolised by images from the cancer ward, morbid but unforgettably vivid. To enter a world of make-believe, however challenging, felt cowardly, evasive, a denial of death's dominion. The real world, luckily, was a different matter. It did seem permissible to seek solace elsewhere. So we flew to Israel, my son and I, and from there to Cairo, hoping that the perfumes of Arabia would sweeten the bitter season. From Cairo we took the night train to Luxor.

"We arrived before dawn. The station was empty, the hinterland unilluminated. A guide led us to the bank of the Nile, where we boarded the boat that would ferry us to the West Bank, the land of the dead. The full moon was descending, the sun warming up. As moonlight fell upon the still waters I unexpectedly recalled a sentence from a famous story by Anton Chekhov. Later, while parading in slo-mo along the corniche at the blaze of noon, I felt that I had been transported to Yalta, and half expected to encounter the ghostly presence of Anna Sergeyevna, the eponymous lady with the lapdog.

"Dmitry Gurov, the man destined to disrupt her life, first spots her 'walking along the promenade; she was fair, not very tall, and wore a toque; behind her trotted a white pomeranian.' Actually I didn't need a description, I knew exactly what she looked like, having seen her incarnated by angelic Iya Savvina in the Joseph Heifitz movie. Her image lingered. Returning to England I reread the story; then I began to rewrite it, transposing the action to Egypt. Hence the title of my collection, The Lady with the Laptop."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1982.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 11, 1983.

New Statesman, September 16, 2992, Matthew Jennings, review of Meet the Wife, p. 53.

Observer, June 7, 1987.

Spectator, January 18, 1997, review of The Lady with the Laptop, p. 34.

Time, October 17, 1983.

Times (London, England), May 19, 1983; August 12, 1985.

Times Literary Supplement, December 14, 1979; May 28, 1982; April 29, 1983; September 13, 1985; July 3, 1987; December 4, 1998, p. 32; August 2, 2002, Sean O'Brien, review of Meet the Wife, p. 19.

Washington Post Book World, November, 13, 1983.

ONLINE

Guardian Unlimited, http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (August 4, 2002), David Mattin, review of Meet the Wife.

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Sinclair, Clive 1948-

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