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Hatchett and Lycett Paperback – 28 Mar 2002
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|Paperback, 28 Mar 2002||
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Despite its binary title Nigel Williams' immensely entertaining comic novel Hatchett and Lycett, like the classic Truffaut film Jules et Jim, is dominated by a ménage à trois. As the book is set (mainly) in Croydon at the beginning of World War II, the threesome is of the staunchly English stiff-upper-lip, platonic variety; although any novel whose subplots include the mysterious disappearance of an adulterous cleric, a lecherous chemistry master and a Sapphic murder at Mallory Towers, is hardly likely to disappoint the prurient.
The eponymous (Dennis) Hatchett and (Alec) Lycett, old school chums and now schoolmasters at Crotchet Green's Kirby Grammar are both "sweet" on the same woman: childhood friend Norma Lewis, who teaches at the neighbouring "gels" school, Saltdene. Squaring their initially unacknowledged romantic triangle is not the only problem. A Saltdene/Kirby trip to France results in the death (in distinctly suspicious circumstances) of the rather butch Franco-admiring Spanish teacher, Miss Everett. Hatchett asks Norma (if on this occasion only humorously) to marry him and Norma finds herself smuggling Rachel, a Jewish-German girl with an astonishing grasp of nuclear physics, into England as her niece. The moment war is declared Alec enlists and becomes engaged to Norma. However, the reappearance of Alec's long-banished twin brother Lucius and the continuing decimation of Saltdene's fascistic, lesbian, Spanish department by poisoning and strangulation prove almost as alarming as the increasingly omnipresent exploits of the "heartless Nazis".
In places Williams relies too heavily on the Curse of the Comic Capitals (there are a tad too many "The Boy With the Peculiar Ears" and "The Question of the Tomato Sandwich" type gags) but this book is littered with fragments of absolute comic genius--a magnificently rambling vicar's sermon just before Chamberlain's immortal speech is hilarious. There are also touches of astonishing pathos. The Agatha Christie-style murders, while often very funny, feel like an ingredient too many; even Williams himself seems to forget about them halfway through. The unmasking of the murderer at, an unsurprisingly farcical, funeral-cum-wedding is something of an anticlimax. By then Williams has made the unravelling of a darker secret from Hatchett and Lycett's childhood far more intriguing. Its resolution, together with the settling of the bizarre love triangle (more of a love hexagon by the end), provides the book's real, and much more satisfying, dénouement. --Travis Elborough
Hatchett and Lycett is a delightful comedy, a novel of war and secrecy and an unexpectedly touching exploration of the complexity of love and desire.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
The plot involves the rescue of a fugitive from Hitler, mass hysteria in a girls' school, thwarted love and fulfilled love - and it gallops along with tremendous verve and pace. This book had me laughing out loud several times. Williams writes knowingly about men's strange inability to talk about their emotions and women's even stranger inability to talk about little else. A tremendously good job done here.
Williams' novel "Hatchett & Lycett" is less funny and more poignant than the others I've read. Set in 1939 - with flashbacks to 1921 - it is the story of two young men - Alec Lycett and Dennis Hatchett - and their life-long friendship. The third of their group is Norma Lewis, who is a bit in love with both guys. August 1939 brings the beginning of the war to their town of Croydon, located directly south east of London and the site of London's first airport. Hatchett and Norma teach school together, while Lycett has just joined the army. But they continue their friendship and Lycett proposes to Norma; she accepts. Meanwhile, some teachers at their joint school begin to die. Norma and Lycett look into these murders while continuing to dance around their own feelings for each other. The war begins to literally "hit home" as soldiers are rescued from Dunkirk and bombs are dropped by German bombers on their way to and from London raids.
The book also looks at the lives of the two boys in 1921. There is a mysterious death and Lycett's identical twin brother is sent off to school as a punishment for "misdeeds". The past - 1921 - plays as much a part as the present - 1939, and Williams does an excellent job in joining the two parts together. While there are some humorous parts to the book, most of it is sadly charming. Sort of like real life.
Most recent customer reviews
A very clever book with a complex plot. The descriptions of being bombed in sunny suburbia and the events at Dunkirk were quite compelling. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Richard French
A series of dead school-mistresses, a love triangle complicated enough without the return of an undisclosed evil twin, a village full of secrets, often very dark, at every corner;... Read morePublished on 18 July 2013 by thereader33