Who would be your ideal biographer? You probably wouldn’t pick your aggrieved and forensic widow. The subject of Catherine Lacey’s mock biography is an era-defining, possibly lunatic artist. It is X’s ‘explicit wish not to be captured in a biography’. But after her sudden death, this is the task that her wife, C. M. Lucca (or ‘C’) takes up – ostensibly to correct the mistakes of another biographer, but really to make sense of their difficult relationship.
X was absent even before she was C’s ex. She never shared her real name or birthplace. ‘Any insistence on the importance of those accidental facts is violence, ignorance’, X writes. But we soon learn that these facts are crucial. The era which X defines, and which C documents, is none that we know. In 1945, the USA’s Southern Territory – where X was actually born – seceded and became a fascist theocracy. The North, to which X then escaped, is a socialist state.
Biography of X is presented as a book within a book, complete with copyright page and footnotes. Lacey digs out photographs, snatches of literary criticism, and the work of real-life iconoclasts (Kathy Acker, David Bowie) to render her subject. The result is an ambitious remaking of the epistolary form: a novel which sustains, in its fragments, a parallel world. X marks Lacey out as one of the most intriguing novelists working today.
Words: Eve Hawksworth