HT reviewer Nawaid Anjum picks his favourite reads of 2021

Updated on Dec 17, 2021 12:36 PM IST

A dialogue across time with Lady Chatterley: Canadian-British author Alison MacLeod’s book fuses fact and fiction in a joyous celebration of DH Lawrence’s most controversial novel

Fusing fact and fiction, Alison MacLeod’s book is a celebration of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. (HT Team)
Fusing fact and fiction, Alison MacLeod’s book is a celebration of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. (HT Team)
ByNawaid Anjum

I discovered the sensual universe of DH Lawrence, especially his controversial novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover — suffused with unbridled passion — in early adulthood, when I was curious about the physical realm, intrigued by the mysteries of the body and the persistent throb of desire. The undercurrents of sexual and social liberation in Lawrence’s last novel spoke to me; its theme of the tussle between the “life of the mind” and the “life of the body” and the need to strike a balance between the two resonated with my own conflicted soul.

My worn-out, dog-eared copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which I always kept bound in paper to hide its revealing cover, is a riot of annotations, right from the opening lines: “Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.” These are lines that have oddly comforted me in moments of grief and tragedy. Lawrence, “more of an academic industry than a writer,” remains someone whose vast corpus of work across genres I have found myself revisiting every now and then.

Nawaid Anjum (Courtesy the reviewer)
Nawaid Anjum (Courtesy the reviewer)

It was with profound thrill then that I picked up Canadian-British author Alison MacLeod’s masterful fourth novel Tenderness, which fuses together fact and fiction to establish a “dialogue across time with Lady Chatterley.” The 600-page doorstopper is immersive and engaging, drawing you into its utterly fascinating world that careens through different eras of the 20th century. Its vivid prose flows, taking you back to the linguistic brilliance of the Modernists. MacLeod seems to be emotionally invested in the censorship of Lawrence’s work and dwells on the viewpoints of both his critics and admirers with insight gained from extensive research.

Unsparing in its depiction of adultery and explicit in its portrayal of the sexual attraction between Constance Chatterley and Mellors, the working-class gamekeeper of her estate, Lady Chatterley’s Lover triggered waves of shock when it was first published and was at the centre of a landmark obscenity trial. It had come under attack for being “sex-sodden,” an “abysm of filth” and “the foulest book in English literature.” Reading Tenderness, a joyous celebration of Lawrence’s much-despised novel and a triumph of imagination, made me fall in love with him all over again.

Nawaid Anjum is an independent journalist, translator and poet. He lives in New Delhi.

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