‘The Man of Slow Feeling’ is the title story of a selection of Michael Wilding’s short stories published between 1972 and 1985.
These stories vary widely in setting, content, character, tone, but Wilding’s voice is consistent. By ‘voice’ I mean that if I was given an unidentified story in an envelope I’d be able to tell if it was Wilding’s before I was halfway through. It would be a plain, sealed, brown-paper envelope, of course.
The voice I hear is that of the writer as condemned observer. It records experience, it records itself in the midst of experience, it records itself recording. The title story is apt: the man of slow feeling is broken in the attempt to record and experience at the same time. The voice telling the stories is so distinctive that very soon I gave up trying to keep writer and writing separate in my mind. Whether they are first person narratives or not, the stories are intensely personal. They always seem to reveal what the writer chooses to expose of himself.
A reviewer is bound to behave as a different kind of reader from others, especially when dealing with a mixed collection like Unsettled Areas. Other readers can pick and choose, skip the duller bits, and take as long as they like, whereas I’ve read closely every story, at least twice, in the space of two days. Then I’ve let them settle into my imagination for another day or so to see what impressions have lasted, before taking another look. I looked especially hard at the ones I found unsatisfactory, in case my mind had changed. I’ll leave these until later.
Marion Campbell’s first book is an ambitious work in which large themes are explored through the consciousness of a complex character, Rita Finnerty, a twenty-five-year-old Australian artist living in France. The writing is richly dense with images, symbolic clues, psychological insight poetic and painterly language, time layered with memory and even stories within the story.