Profile for Richard Brown > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Richard Brown
Top Reviewer Ranking: 2,136
Helpful Votes: 143

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Richard Brown (Hove, E.Sussex, UK)

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11
pixel
A Musical Eye: The Visual World of Britten and Pears
A Musical Eye: The Visual World of Britten and Pears
by Judith LeGrove
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.86

4.0 out of 5 stars Art and the visual in the world of Britten and Pears, 14 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This large format, lavishly illustrated book of essays takes a multifaceted look at the place of the visual arts in the life and music of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. The editor, Judith Le Grove, has assembled a formidable panel of experts in the field of Britten-Pears studies, each of whom contribute an incisive - and in some cases factually very detailed - accounts and essays of an aspect of the visual arts and how it relates to the musicians.

One is initially drawn into this handsome book - which began life in a more luxurious limited edition, complete with Mary Potter endpapers which, alas, are not included in this edition - by the illustrations, the photographs, the art works, which demonstrate how important the visual arts were to the whole Snape and Aldeburgh experience. One soon learns that Britten and Pears were not only enthusiastic and assiduous collectors of (mainly English) art from the 19th century as well as their own time, but they knew personally many of the artists, whose work they patronised, eg Mary Potter, John Craxton, Duncan Grant, Philip Sutton, and of course John Piper, to name but a few. Many of their works are reproduced here.

The editor sketches the growth of this art collection, listing acquisitions year by year. Caroline Harding focuses on the work of five artists whose work was commissioned by the pair and hung in their various houses: Craxton; Sutton; Francis Souza; Maxwell Armfield; and the sculptor Georg Ehlich, who did the exquisite 'Standing Boy' lifesize nude statue which can be seen at Red House. The editor contributes a further essay on the visual presentation of Britten's music, the brochures, programme and record covers and other ephemera. Paul Kildea, who has written several books on Britten, including a recent biography, follows this with a sketch of the relationship between Britten and Pears and the Bloomsbury Group, notably the work of Duncan Grant. Julian Potter, son of the painter Mary Potter, contributes an illuminating personal memoir of his mother and her close relationship over many years with the pair - they exchanged houses, and Mary lived in her latter years in a bungalow specially built for her in the grounds of Red House.

Moving away from the painters and designers, David Crilly reminds us how important film was in Britten's early career. 'Night Mail' is perhaps the best remembered of them now, but in all he worked on 26 films, mostly for the GPO. Jane Pritchard looks at costume and stage design, and the editor writes on the art exhibitions which were so prominent a part of the Festival each year, from 1948-1976. The pair were much involved at every level in staging these exhibitions, and their friend, Kenneth Clark, repeatedly lectured on the artists on display, bringing the London metropolitan art scene to this corner of East Anglia. Alan Powers writes about the architectural changes to Red House. The book ends with a checklist of the artworks mentioned in the book, ie some 300 of the 2000 in the collection.

Each brief, if comprehensive, essay is introductory by nature; each indicates the need for much longer explorations. For the general reader such as myself, a separate book on the artists and artworks most associated with Britten and Pears would have been more satisfying and more focused. I would also love to have a companion volume of the relationship between Britten and literature, between him and the writers, living and dead, who directly or indirectly inspired him and collaborated with him: Crabbe, Melville, James, Forster, Piper, and so on. The links between Britten and literature run so deep, this would be a fascinating study - let's hope a publisher will be inspired to commission it.

This is a handsome, interesting book that appeals on many levels; but it left at least this reader wanting more.


Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision
Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision
by Frances Spalding
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.10

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ... biography of Virginia Woolf - " one of the greatest writers of all time and a cultural phenomena, 13 July 2014
This lavishly illustrated biography of Virginia Woolf - " one of the greatest writers of all time and a cultural phenomena," as the author reminds us in her acknowledgements - is published to accompany an exhibition about the writer at the National Portrait Gallery. But it is much more than an exhibition catalogue. It features over a hundred images of the writer and her circle, her books and manuscripts, and other documentary material, vividly bringing Woolf's life and its rich context alive, often with surprising immediacy. Having explored her life and the lives of the Bloomsbury group for decades, I was familiar with many of the images, but equally there were many unfamiliar ones, such as the full-page photograph of her brother Toby, so handsome and serious, and the marvellous painting of the young Leonard Woolf by Henry Lamb, with its touching sadness; there are many discoveries to be found here.

As an art historian, critic and biographer, Frances Spalding is uniquely qualified to curate the exhibition and to produce this book. She does a deft job in distilling a complex life - the standard biography of Woolf by Hermione Lee runs to 900 pages - into a text that you can read comfortably in one sitting, and to do it without oversimplifying a rich and complex life. In such a limited space she can only alight on the most important events and people in Woolf's life, but she does so in a way which suggests the many stories beneath it. The notated pictures tell their own story too: there is a close connection between them and the text, each illuminating the other. She writes briskly, with grace and knowledge; her respect for her subject is profound without being hagiographic; and while she moves generally in a chronological direction through Woolf's life, she keeps the narrative flexible, breaking it into passages and chapters each with its own focus, As an art historian, she emphasises the influence the artists in Woolf's immediate circle (perhaps foregrounding this too much at the expense of other, equally profound influences?). And with her knowledge of the whole Bloomsbury group - she is the biographer of three of the Bloomsbury painters and has written a guide to the group for the NPG's Companion series - she is able to place Woolf within contexts both personal, literary and cultural.

As an introduction to Woolf, and as a companion to the exhibition, this could hardly be bettered. It opens up overlapping worlds of literary and art history which could set you off in many different biographical and intellectual directions. For those steeped in Woolf studies, the illustrative material, drawn from private as well as public sources, will surely prove welcome, perhaps invaluable too - they are always worth revisiting. A really lovely book.

(See also my reviews of 'The Voyage Out'; 'Melymbrosia'; and 'Virginia Woolf, A-Z')


Memoirs of Emma Courtney (Oxford World's Classics)
Memoirs of Emma Courtney (Oxford World's Classics)
by Mary Hays
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars A flawed but interesting study of early feminism, 11 July 2014
Published in the late 18th century, this fictional memoir, written by the widowed Emma Courtney and addressed to her adopted son Augustus, gives us a fascinating insight into the life of a middle-class, intellectual young woman of the time, in particular the social restrictions regarding courtship, love and marriage and the life of the mind. It is partly an epistolary novel, partly a precursor to the sensational novel and to Jane Austen, partly an impassioned plea for women's rights, influenced by the work of Mary Wollstonecraft. Passages of moral and social philosophy are woven into the novel in the form of letters for the most part - these are hard to read now but give us an insight into the thinking of the time. As such, it is worth studying not just for its fictional qualities but for its literary and historical value.

The narrative falls into three parts. First, Emma's early years, the death of her parents, the move to the Morton's who gave her a home, her conflict with the odious Mrs Morton and early rebuffs of unwanted attention from men. From the start we see that she is an intelligent, ardent and independent woman who struggles to shape her own destiny in a world ruled by men and social convention. The second part is largely made up of letters to her friend Mr Francis and to the man she falls disastrously in love with, Augustus Harley. Here the main theme of the novel emerges: the pains and passions of unrequited love. Emma pours out a mixture of desire, philosophy, self-analysis, entreaty, suffering and complaint, aimed at Harley - who does not respond in the way she wishes. He is by turns cold and ambiguous, harbouring a secret that must deny him her love. This second part is, for the modern reader, the least readable of the novel. Emma is self-centred and obsessed: in today's terms we would say that she has some of the blind characteristics of the stalker. The third part reads like a condensed sensational novel, the kind that Mary Elizabeth Braddon might have written in the latter half of the nineteenth century: it whips along, taking in revelations of secrets, infanticide, adultery, suicide and several other unfortunates deaths, leaving Emma at the end a rueful and chastened widow, doting on the boy whom she calls her son.

This unevenness in terms of structure and tone, the tediousness of the letters, the self-absorption of the heroine, the way some scenes remain undeveloped, the lack of wit, and the ubiquity of sudden deaths, make this novel a flawed reading experience, but it still offers much to the general reader as well as the student of history and early feminism.

The introduction and the full textual notes are thorough and helpful and help to situate the novel in its literary context.


The War of the End of the World
The War of the End of the World
by Mario Vargas Llosa
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A great war novel, 11 July 2014
This huge novel, set in north eastern Brazil at the end of the nineteenth century, is a detailed and chilling study of a country in the throws of civil-war. With a Tolstoyan sweep, it demonstrates what happens to humanity when politics is mixed with messianic religion, when idealism allied to ruthless power becomes toxic. Religion, power and death are so inextricably entwined in this story it becomes a vision of hell on earth. This book is a novelisation of history, but imagined with such amazing visual acuity, with such an Olympian view of human depredations, with such a deep grasp of the realities of siege warfare, it feels as if the author was a witness to all he describes. (One feels the same about 'War and Peace').

It begins with the Counselor, a self-styled holy man, who has a vision of a religious community at odds with the prevailing Republic. He gathers around him a motley collection of outcasts and former criminals and inspires them with religious fervour. They cast aside their former habits and follow him to the town of Canudos, where he creates a community based upon Christianity and liberty. People flock to join it. The authorities see this as a threat to their rule and send a number of ill-fated expeditions to destroy it, each of which we follow in detail. The viewpoint shifts, as in a film (the novel began life as a film script) from one set of key characters to another, on both sides, either on the battlefield for the most part, on in the antechambers to it. There are no subplots, no love-interest (except a tussle over one woman, Jurema), few scenes that take you away from the field of conflict: the narrative is concentrated and relentless.

It's not a novel about character, in the sense that 'War and Peace' is as much about the main protagonists' inner lives as about war: we see the characters only from the outside, we judge them only by their behaviour, we see them only in relation to the conflict; their sentiments are mostly about war or God, the Republic or the honour of the regiment. It's difficult to get to know any of them as people, to really care about them; it is a pitiless novel. The excitement, the warmth, is in the vivid descriptions, in the violence and sordidness of war and the machinations behind it.
.
For this reason, I give this novel four stars rather than the five it probably deserves. It reads more like an imagined history. As a novel about war it is up there with the best of them. As a novel about character and relationships it fails: the characters remain figures in a landscape. ('War and Peace' managed to combine both). Despite this limitation, it's a magnificent book, well worth the time and concentrated reading it requires.


The Victorian Chaise-Longue
The Victorian Chaise-Longue
by Marghanita Laski
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A chilling time-travelling ghost-thriller, 13 Jun 2014
Reincarnation is based on the idea that when the body dies its essential personality or spirit passes into another body, in another time and place, to live again in a different form. The new life is conditioned by how one behaved in the previous life. Access to the memories of previous lives is not through the conscious mind, which is sealed off from such knowledge, but through trances and dreams, fragments from the subconscious. Time-travelling stories of the ghostly kind, where two of more of these lives get confused, is a rich source for the gothically inclined author, and this superb novella is a very good example of it.

Melanie, in the present, diagnosed with TB but likely to recover, buys a Victorian chaise-longue in a junk shop. It turns out to be the agent of fatal, involuntary time-travel. Falling asleep on it, she wakes to find herself in the body of a women called Millie who is dying of TB. It is 1864; she is in a genteel but relatively poor house and is being looked after by her sister Adelaide whose attitude to her is equivocal. At first she thinks everyone around her is mad. Slowly, with horror, she understands what has happened to her; that she is trapped in another time, that she has the thoughts and language of someone else, that no one will believe that she has come from the future. As the day unfolds, and as she talks to her sister, the vicar, the doctor and a neighbour, all of whom treat her with pity and circumspection, sometimes accusingly, sometimes in desperation, and as fragments of Millie's memory surface, she pieces together a Victorian horror story involving a shameful pregnancy and a tearing loss. She is religious, believing in the efficacy of ecstasy through prayer, though this does not help her. The tragic climax offers a kind of release, but a very ambivalent one.

Apart from the incidental pleasures of the story - the way the author evokes the Victorian world - one of its chief pleasures, the one that perhaps attracted the crime writer P D James who wrote the Foreword, is to try and work out Millie's story. What happened to her? What has she got to repent? Who else was involved? Laski doesn't provide the answers but she gives you enough to work out a plausible scenario to explain the mystery, just as one does in a crime novel. Wisely, she doesn't attempt to try and explain why Melanie was transported to another time: that's taken as a given of the genre.

It's essentially a nightmare in which one person takes on the sins and frailties of another person, perhaps as a punishment, the nightmare of entrapment; death is the only way out. After reading it, I don't think you'll be tempted to buy the next chaise-longue that beckons to you in an antique shop; the past is best left to the past. A very entertaining book, to be read in one sitting. Don't let anyone disturb you while you are reading it for you might break its spell.


A Possible Life
A Possible Life
by Sebastian Faulks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of his best books, 12 Jun 2014
This review is from: A Possible Life (Paperback)
These five short stories range in time and place, from 19th century France and England, to '60s America, and to an Italy set in the future. Each of them have the potential for five short novels, but in a dazzling display of skill and a masterly control of his material, Faulks condenses each narrative into something essential, something which, though pared down, is full of life.

Much has been made of the apparent connections between the stories - its been misleadingly called a novel because of these - but I did not find this aspect of the collection either obvious or helpful. Put any five short stories by the same author between covers and you will find connections of one kind or another if you look for them. Worrying about this is a distraction from their very real quality.

In this collection Faulks displays his gift for character and his seemingly effortless ability to evoke a specific time and place. He is at home describing a foul prison camp as he is a public school; he can summon life in a 19th French village as he can the hippy life of the pop music scene in '60s America. He creates real, varied, credible, exceptional characters: he doesn't just describe them and set them moving and speaking, he takes you into their heart and soul, he traces the significant events that change them, he demonstrates with compassion and sensitivity what lies at the heart of his characters. If there is an overriding theme in this collection, it is about the nature of identity, about the core of the self, about how love, its heights and disappointments, can shock one into a sense of one's true self.

His narrative skill and grasp of historical reality is not in doubt; at the heart of all good literature is character and in this he excels.
I've read many of Faulks's novels over the years. 'Birdsong' is the one he'll best be remembered for, of course; but some passages in 'A Possible Life' compare well with it. I think it's one of his best books.


The Fortnight in September
The Fortnight in September
by R. C. Sherriff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A novel of small, seemingly insignificant events, 11 Jun 2014
The Stevens, a lower-middle class family of five, take their annual holiday, as usual, at Mrs Huggett's boarding house, 'Seaview', in Bognor, probably in the 1930s. Nothing much happens to them. They have a pleasant time messing about on the beach, eating buns, changing in the chalet, promenading, listening to the band - this is, apart from anything else, a portrait of a vanished world. The author said he wanted to take an ordinary family, the type he could see every day at the seaside, and flesh out in detail what they and their holiday might be like. He wrote intuitively without a plan, building up the picture as he went along. With an unerring eye for the small things, for the ordinary, the mundane, and knowing how important appearances, routine and 'knowing your place' were to such a family, these became the substance of his story.

The ordinariness of family life in Carunna Road near the Embankment during the first 100 pages or so is a surprise: I was soon asking, Where is the action? What is going to ruffle this placid little domestic pool? When they arrive in Bognar and Mrs Stevens briefly goes missing - she seemed at first ill at ease about the holiday - I thought, at last, the action is about to start. But no. Mrs Stevens soon reappears. The author is determined to avoid any drama, conflict, unhappiness: this is going to be a comforting and sunny book with no shadows, it's going to celebrate the everyday and the uneventful, mirroring life as it really is. It took me awhile to accept this, but as my interest in the characters grew, I began to care about what happened to them.

The focus is on Dad, a man of limited horizons, but a good and loyal father; Dick, his seventeen year old son, depressed by the experience of leaving school, where he was something of a sporting hero, facing the dreary prospect of a life as an office boy, and Mary, an innocent twenty year old who is taking a belated interest in boys and starts to walk out with an actor. Mrs Stevens, and Ernie the youngest son, remain in the background: disappointingly, the author has little to say about them.

Some might feel that this is portrait of a claustrophobic family, with the father keeping a tight rein on everything that happens, the children repressed, polite and dutiful, the mother confined to domestic duties - a family hidebound by routine, modest means, a lack of imagination, satisfied with small incremental improvements in their limited lives. But by keeping everything genial and sunny and light, expressing everything in simple language, leaving the darker side of life out of the picture (except for the touching scene at the end with the unfortunate Mrs Huggett), Sheriff produced a nostalgic and comforting book. That's quite a feat, for novels are by their very nature based on conflict and drama. He beguiles us with his affection for the family, and we forget what life was really like for them in reality. This is a holiday too from the grinding reality of everyday life.

If you like gentle family stories set in the past this is one for you. And if you want to see how to write a novel based entirely upon seemingly small and insignificant events, you can't do better than this one.


Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters
Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters
by Jane Dunn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The love of women, 10 Jun 2014
One of the many ironies in this sympathetic portrait of the three Du Maurier sisters, Angela, Daphne and Jeanne, is that their parents, Gerald, the famous actor-manager and his wife Muriel, were fiercely homophobic - ironic because all three children preferred love and sex with other women. Two of them formed long-term lesbian relationships. Daphne was more equivocal in this respect, as she was in so many other aspects of her life - she married the war hero (and war damaged) Tommy Browning, while forming passionate attachments with her American publisher's wife Ellen Doubleday and the actress Gertrude Lawrence. Gerald, jealous of his daughters' male admirers to an unhealthy degree, battled to control this aspect of their daughters lives, with diminishing results. They crushed Angela's only real chance of marriage with a suitable man out of misplaced suspicion and possessiveness, making it more likely that she turned to women for love - another of the book's poignant ironies.

The biography's subtitle 'The Hiddden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing' , refers mainly to these attachments - and to Daphne's difficult marriage - attachments which, during the pre-Wolfenden era were generally thought to be scandalous and were therefore 'hidden' from public view. Angela, a novelist herself, bravely made it the subject of one of her early works of fiction; and Jeanne settled down into a loving relationship with Noel Welch, a noted poet. It is an aspect of the extended Du Maurier family story which needed to be told, to set the record straight, and Jane Dunn, who specialises in group biographies of famous sisters, moves through the territory with ease and confidence.

Much of the rest of the material concerning Daphne has been covered in other books; she is the least 'hidden' of the three. Inevitably, she, being the most famous of the three, dominates this book; the other two sisters never move out of her shadow. Angela's books don't merit the same attention as her sister's, and so a separate biography of her might be interesting but is unlikely to be commissioned. Jeanne, on the other hand, strikes me as being, potentially, more interesting; it depends on the quality and importance of her painting. Tantalisingly, the book gives us only two of her pictures, not enough for a judgement to be made. Is she one of the many female painters unjustly neglected, relegated to store cupboards, that a recent TV series on women painters has highlighted? If so, maybe a separate book on her life and work is worth commissioning; then she could step out of Daphne's long shadow.

Jeanne's life, in this book, remains the most hidden; she covers many less pages than the others. Angela and Daphne confided most in each other. One of the strongest and most affecting scenes comes right at the end of the book when the aged and withdrawn Daphne visits her wheelchair bound, arthritic sister Angela for the last time and they kiss, Daphne, the greater of the two writers, deferring to her older sister as in some ancient family rite. Jeanne, being several years younger, and once the favourite of their cold and judgemental mother, seems less close to her sisters. Like Daphne, and unlike Angela, she eventually puts her art before everything else, and she remained more remote (which is perhaps why we learn less about her).

The book is also a portrait of a marriage - Daphne's. (Angela never did marry or live with another woman). There were four corners to this marriage - Tommy, Daphne, Daphne's writing, and the house she was in love with (as if it was a person) Menabilly. With so many loves competing for her attention - and with Daphne's deeply emotional attachments to women - Tommy was up against it. He was a busy man too, with many responsibilities during the war, much lauded and decorated for his work, who went on to become a key figure in the royal household. Feeling neglected by Daphne, he found time to conduct affairs with other women, a fact which, when revealed to Daphne, devastated her. He suffered from severe, suicidal depressions too, and had at least one major nervous breakdown. When he retired, he became an alcoholic and a burden to his wife. Yet somehow, this marriage survived, and Daphne grieved much for him after his death.

Biographies, if they are to avoid being too long and detailed, have to be selective and have a clear focus. Much more could have been included here, but Dunn has chosen to focus on the personal lives of these three sisters, their relationships and their loves. It is not particularly analytic but it avoids theories and speculation. It makes for a very satisfying read and is surely a must for anyone interested in Daphne du Maurier and her remarkable novels and stories.


The Blank Wall
The Blank Wall
by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like an old American film, 2 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Blank Wall (Paperback)
One thing a thriller should always do is grip you and keep you guessing as to what will happen next. It helps if it is pervaded by a sense of mystery and danger. It should be well paced to keep you turning the page and written in a language that doesn't get in the way of the action. You should be rooting for the main characters too or at least sympathise with their motives. All these qualities are present in this Persephone Books' reprint and if you like this sort of narrative you unlikely to be disappointed.

It takes an ordinary American family in the early 1940s - mother (Lucia), father (away in the war), grandfather, a seventeen year old daughter, a fifteen year old son - living by a river in a nice house with a loyal and intelligent black servant. Into this placid, rather dull family steps a cardboard cut-out crook, Ted Darby, who has dazzled the inexperienced daughter. He has love letters from her and tries to use them to extort money. This accidentally leads to his death. Thinking her father has unknowingly caused Derby's death, the mother, Lucia, tries to cover it up by dumping the body on a nearby island. She then becomes the victim of blackmail at the hands of one of Derby's criminal associates...

Soon, she is entangled in a web of deceit and fear. Struggling to save the good name of her family and her daughter's tender feelings, she gets involved in another murder and its cover up. She forms an unlikely and ultimately crucial friendship with one of the blackmailers. She fends off inquisitive journalists and the police, trying to keep a semblance of normality in front of her family. It's a domestic thriller in which the American home is under threat, in which the central character, Lucia, struggles to uphold her primary responsibility as a mother to protect her family and home.

She's almost ensnared by her increasingly desperate attempts to obscure the truth. The way she escapes justice at the end of the book is rather unconvincing. As her father says (still not aware of what has been going on), "The great thing is, if there's anything starting, to nip it in the bud." The irony of this is double-edged: this is exactly what she tried to do with her first criminal action and, of course, what she should have done when the consequences began to spiral out of control.

The book is a little strange at times: Lucia's actions are often daft or questionable; the insouciance of the rest of the family strains credibility; the servant's mysteriousness is a little overdone. Donnelly's change of heart and self-sacrifice was hard to take too - his character is insufficiently developed or in focus. In a literary novel, these might be serious faults. In a thriller, perhaps it doesn't matter so much.

In the Publisher's Note, Raymond Chandler wrote of the author, "For my money she's the top suspense writer of them all." High praise from such a source. The book has twice been filmed. Persephone Books - along with Hitchcock - reckons this is the best of her novels. All good reasons to reprint it.


Wilfred and Eileen
Wilfred and Eileen
by Jonathan Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A 'shattering and inspiring' story, 31 May 2014
This review is from: Wilfred and Eileen (Paperback)
The author says in his informative Afterword to this realistic short novel, that its story was 'given' to him, that it is in an historical sense 'a true story'. It's chief characters, Wilfred & Eileen, really existed; one of their grandchildren came to the author with a manuscript written by Wilfred, asking if he could make something of it. Smith, a young schoolteacher, was thinking of writing a book about Seigfried Sassoon, but he soon saw that part of Wilfred's manuscript contained the potential for a 'shattering and inspiring' story.

The result is a touching and compelling read that has that extra-special authentic feel. Until I read the Afterword, I had no idea of its real-life source; but when I came to the exchange of artless letters between the couple in the second part of the novel - he at the Front, she fretting at home - I began to feel that these weren't so much imagined as transcribed, so real did they feel. The feeling that I was reading a novelised personal history increased during the third, tragic part of the story. If you are imagining the events of a novel, I thought, this would probably not be its trajectory; and yet, in terms of the randomness of life, this is exactly how it would be in a memoir. So I was glad to have this feeling confirmed by the Afterword. The verisimilitude of the story adds a whole new layer to it.

It's a novel about love against the odds. The young couple have to resist parental disapproval of their relationship; they have to face separation in war and all the longing and anxiety that goes with that; and in the final section of the book, Eileen's initiative and love is put to the test while Wilfred endures the battle of his life not at the Front but in a hospital. It's a short novel but much emotional ground is covered, from Wilfred's innocent days at Cambridge to married life, to a smashed body and the near destruction of all they hold dear. Because of the quiet ring of truth about the whole tale, it grips you, not sensationally but with modest resolve and a tremendous amount of unassuming skill in the telling. Another wise reprint from Persephone books.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11