"The celebrated Felix Dern", the protagonist of Jim Crace's Six, is an unfortunately fertile actor and singer. "Every woman he dares to sleep with bears his child"--from the older neighbour who took his virginity and Frieda, his love in radical student days, to his portly Catholic first wife Alicja and a vacuous, surgically enhanced costar with whom he had a one off tryst. "Lix" has, in fact, "never slept with anyone without--eventually--a pregnancy" occurring. And as the novel opens, his second wife Mouetta, has just become pregnant with what will be his sixth and, we are told, last child, (hence the title).
Reductively, the book could be described as a kind of "Lix: A Life and Loves", or, as it tells the story of each of his pollinations, "Lix: A Life of Life Making". However, this is not a book that yields easily to a reductive summary. Lix, who, symbolically, has a pronounced birthmark on his cheek, may play Don Juan on the stage but despite his fertility he is not actually a voracious sexual conquistador; timidity is a recurring character flaw. Crace's spare, meticulous dissection of Lix's life, delivered in understated, truly poetic prose, ultimately forms a haunting, and occasionally erotic, meditation on those eternal sexual conundrums: love, gender, power, fertility and desire.
Like his earlier work Arcadia, the setting here is an imaginary, contemporary city--known variously throughout the book as the City of Balconies, the City of Kisses and the City of Mathematical Truth. The topography is at once familiar yet unerringly strange. Lix and his partners orbit a cityscape of plush suburbs, restaurants and cafes but references, opaque and transparent, to riots, floods, political repression and economic instability gives this powerful novel about sex, lovemaking, marriage and children an eerily dystopian hue. --Travis Elborough