Tuesday, 8 February 2011

C H Sisson, Christopher Homm (1965)


Sisson, though of course better known for his newsreading poetry, did write one novel. It's the lifestory of the titular Christopher, an ordinary working class Bristol man; all written in an over-fruity, ever-so-slightly-self-consciously 'I'm a poet really' prose -- although there's plenty of striking phrase-making, and some of the longer passages are pretty powerful. But I read it, and note it here, as part of a larger project of mine: clocking titles, and in this case, authors, omitted from Clute and Nicholls (and, as soon will be, '& Langford'). It's only the extraordinary comprehensiveness of this reference work that makes the game worth playing, of course: missed titles are hen's-teeth-like. But this is one, I think: because Sisson, though not usually associated with science fiction, has here written a novel that falls broadly within the purview of genre. That's because he tells his story backwards, starting with Homm's death ('He was a pattern of amiability when he fell flat on the gravel. The drop on his nose rolled off and became a ball of dust, but he did not move again and his subsequent history was only a funeral', 7) and ending with him inside his mother's womb ('Christopher crouched in his blindness. He was about to set out on the road to Torrington Street, and if he had known how bitter the journey was he would not have come', 239). It's well realised, this conceit. Although the reverse-timeliness is only a narrative feature (his life is lived forward: which is to say, it anticipates Amis's Time's Arrow rather than Dick's superior Counter-Clock World), Sisson manages some effective structural dislocations. Overall, this novel is a minor but rather interesting nugget of literary obscurity.

I'd suggest this is the first reverse-time novel. I can't think of an earlier example, certainly.

The epigraph is from Augustine's Retractationes: 'pristina stabilitas hactenus accipienda est, quatenus aegritudinem ita nullam corpora illa patientur, sicut nec ista pati possent ante peccatum.' Augie's speculating on what the human body will be like after it has been resurrected by God at the end of time: 'their former integrity will be preserved, to the extent that they will be incapable of suffering distress or decay, just as bodies were before the sin of Adam.' This gives a pointer to the meditatively Christian uses to which Sisson puts his reverse-time conceit. 'Christopher', you see. 'Homm', you see.

6 comments:

Mike Taylor said...

"... missed titles are hen's-teeth-like. But this is one, I think: because Sisson tells his story backwards ..."

You seem to be saying that Christopher Homm is missed from Clute and Nicholls because the story is told backwards. Is that really what you mean?

Adam Roberts said...

Mike: you're right, it wasn't well expressed. I've revised == thanks.

Chardonnay Chap said...

What about Pinter's Betrayal? And wasn't reverse time anticipated (or remembered) by Bizarro Superman? http://youtu.be/IcjSDZNbOs0

Adam Roberts said...

Betrayal is an interesting play, but it postdates this novel (Pinter wrote it in 1978). Bizarro world (which Wikipedia dates it to the early 1960s) ... hmm. Time doesn't run backwards on Bizzaro world, I think; although lots of other things are back-to-front.

David Duffy said...

Benjamin Button is 1922

Adam Roberts said...

True. Not a novel, though.