Not too long ago, I wrote a piece reviewing—quite briefly—the works of British author Clive Sinclair, whose Bedbugs I found while digging around in Newtown’s notorious Gould’s Book Arcade. Thanks to the recent work of Australian lit magazine Contrappasso, the author was spared unjust obscurity, with their publication of Sinclair’s most recent unpublished short story STR82ANL making it into their second issue (available here for purchase). As the days of technological transparency are ripe, one must be careful, to say the least, when google-searching this new title from Sinclair, as the results are varied and not all literary. Yet if you do chance upon the desired result, the outcome will be no less bizarre and intriguing.
Like much of Sinclair’s work, an undercurrent of sexuality flows seamlessly through the text. This is so well accomplished that more than once I’ve had to re-read a paragraph or sentence just so I can be sure of what I’ve read, such is Sinclair’s skill in artistic eroticism, not too dissimilar from Nabokov (most notably in his masterpiece Lolita). STR82ANL delivers exactly what it promises for those whose curiosity and, to an extent, voyeurism, is provoked simply by reading the title. Yet Sinclair’s artistic merits take on a drastically new meaning in his latest work. Simply put, he combines artistry and sexuality in a way he has not pursued before, at least to this extent, and gives new meaning to the word ‘artist’.
Arturo Kingfisher is a married painter, and his next muse is the married Ida Siskin, who agrees to pose nude for him in his studio after much reluctance. What might strike some as sounding positively Anais Nin-esque quickly becomes carnal to the point of hilarity, the hope for romance all but washed away in a combination of paint and lubricant. Writing literature’s most bizarre sex scenes seems to be Sinclair’s forte, however, the effect is amplified in this short story. It is not easy to write sex scenes, or so I am told, as they often suffer the fate of leaning towards either Mills and Boon romance or generic, awkward soft-core porn that does nothing for the literary palate. For instance, in his The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas was apparently the recipient of a ‘worst sex scene’ award for his writing. As Trish Bolton writes in her review of Tsiolkas’ book, ‘Sex is difficult to write without riddling it with cliché, overblowing it with sentiment, or resorting to orgasmic metaphors’. Thankfully, Sinclair avoids both disintegration into archetypal romance and formulaic rigidity, and his scenes breathe fresh life into something seemingly impossible to transcribe into words:
Now he finds himself thinking about it again. He is still thinking about it as he prepares his penis for banditry with a Trojan, and scoops the remaining raw umber from his palette with an index finger. Ida gasps, but raises no objection when he inserts finger and oily paint as far up her rectum as possible. Ridiculous as it sounds he wishes his wife could be there to applaud his achievement as he slowly feeds his penis into Ida’s little anus, which expels some bubbles and a small wake of raw umber.
The scene, of which above is only an excerpt, betrays both realism and romanticism. It is somewhat devoid of romance but at the same time there is, undoubtedly, a subtle sense of intimacy that, I suppose, is inevitable considering the subject matter. Moreover the piece is not without its artistic merits—metaphorically speaking. Sinclair is an astute lyricist whose works are instantly transformed into poetry with just the right phrasing, avoiding boredom and generic language at every turn. And of course, as is so often the case with Sinclair, the potent element of sexuality cannot be understood without its humorous side. And as always, Sinclair injects this humour into his works alongside his Jewish identity: ‘Take that you antisemitic cocksucker,’ Zachary bellows. ‘That’ll teach you to stick your uncircumcised dick into my wife’s Jewish arse!”
For already-made fans of Sinclair, this short story should be more than palatable, though for others it simply may be an acquired taste. The short story is published in its entirety in the second issue of Matthew Asprey’s and Theodore Ell’s Contrappasso, available here.