The NS Recommends: Books

The Divine Comedy by Craig Raine.

The Divine Comedy
Craig Raine
Atlantic Books, 192pp, £15.99

In an interview with the New Statesman in 2010, Craig Raine declared: "If you wanted to write about tattoos or haemorrhoids, you could do it in a novel rather more easily than you could in poetry." There are no haemorrhoids or tattoos in this, Raine's second novel, but there are digressions on the surgical truss (and T S Eliot's wearing thereof) and circumcision ("Funny thing, foreskin").

Like its predecessor, Heartbreak, The Divine Comedy wears its debts to Milan Kundera on its sleeve: the two main male characters are strenuously adulterous and, in one case, haunted by impotence. The whole thing hums with essayistic brio and hectic traffic back and forth between fact and fiction. This is, among other things, a meditation on bodily decrepitude and, in particular, the physical afflictions of great writers. Did you know, for instance, that both Coleridge and Dr Johnson suffered from a swelling of the testicle?