A poetic book of voices, landscapes and the passing of time, Ann Quin's novel reflects the multiple meanings of the very word 'passages.' Two characters move through the book--a woman in search of her brother, and her lover (a masculine reflection of herself) in search of himself. The form of the novel, reflecting the schizophrenia of the characters, is split into two sections--a narrative, and a diary annotated with those thoughts that provoked the entries.
If Quin had to be filed under a single heading, it would be the 1960s era, a time of radical change that many hoped would bring about unconditional freedom. The main forces behind that era – sex and violence – are omnipresent in Quin’s work. In Passages intimacy always implies something sinister ... The motif of surveillance runs through Passages too ... A [...] desire for self-reinvention is evident ... Some of the notes in Passages draw on the myths of Dionysus, that ancient symbol of liberation erupting into destruction ... The boundaries of possibility may be easier to cross in literature than in life, and yet few writers have ever dared to follow Ann Quin all the way to the horizon.
Quin’s writing was always dreamlike and fragmentary, but here she had gained the confidence to dispense with plot almost entirely, creating a heady effect with a dense brew of aphorisms, oracles and strands of prose poetry ... Quin’s spare prose line—Delphic, obscure and hauntingly suggestive—creates a comparably vertiginous kind of enchantment. To submit to this unique book’s spell is to experience, in language, a 'fantastic dance of images, shapes, forms.'
Passages is a novel of unbalance and uncertainty -- mental and otherwise --, and distance and remove. The two characters need each other and yet aren't entirely comfortable with one another (but, on the other hand, discomfort seems something both of them need) ... This is a novel focussed very much on character, on people uncertain of who they are and what they can be. They seem afraid of identity and certainty ... Quin writes well: these are convincing, if deeply troubled characters, and the thoughts are well and often very effectively expressed. But the self-conscious and reflective musings can be a bit much: many of their concerns are universal, but their approach (and lifestyle) isn't always easy to relate to. The story of the missing brother is also something that Quin doesn't fully explore, offering some tantalizing bits but refusing to make it too central to the book. An interesting if not fully satisfying short read.