No one overwrites quite like Patrick McGrath. In a crowded field, he must be British fiction's most prodigious overwriter. He made his name writing intense, florid novels about 'wild delusions, ungovernable passions', 'insanity and obsessive sexual love' (his words). But in Port Mungo he has written a book so lush, so fruity, so gorgeous - so in love with Romance and Passion - that his own back catalogue pales into understatement. I have scanned my only Barbara Cartland for something comparable; but nothing there can compete with McGrath in full flow. Where others might be happy with 'the Italian sun', McGrath goes for 'the gentle golden glow of old Italy'. He'll always dodge a workaday phrase like 'a local man' in favour of 'a grizzled native of the town'. When he describes a tropical storm, it comes out like this:
Later the storm moved in across the gulf and the sky was lit by sudden wide sheets of lightning which threw up in stark relief angry black fists and knuckles of stormcloud, and bright jagged flashes which hissed into the sea. The trees across the river flapped about in the rising wind, their broad leaves languidly enfolding one another, and then the blessed rain came.
LRB 19 August 2004 | PDF Download