It’s a tightrope that Adam Mars-Jones, in his second novel narrated by John Cromer, clearly relishes walking. Pilcrow, the first instalment, brought us John as a small child, struck down by Still’s disease, a form of rheumatoid arthritis, and consequently confined to bed or wheelchair for vast swathes of time, kept company by his thoughts, his books and his mother. Cedilla, which is set in the late 1960s and early 70s, sees the teenage John escape from the bedroom, from the cosy stagnation of suburban Buckinghamshire and from the twin strangleholds of almost constant medical supervision and equally ubiquitous maternal attention. But that physical escape – variously attempted in his chair, on crutches or in his specially adapted Mini – must also vie with a determination to attain spiritual release, via a Hindu-inspired form of self-effacement at perilous odds with John’s wonderfully depicted narcissism.
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