Another novel by the author of ‘The Line of Beauty’, this book is really so well constructed and written, even though the story line tends to wander a little. However, this author is just such a damn good writer that one can forgive him that and merely delight in the delicious prose for it’s own sake – and it’s really only in the last couple of ‘sections’ that it feels as if he has rushed to complete it, as mentioned by other reviews I have read. Interestingly, the author apparently started writing short stories after the success of The Line of Beauty, but they coalesced into this novel; and that perhaps explains the ‘jumpiness’ – but I’m not complaining!
It’s actually very clever, as each ‘section’ covers only a few days at most; usually a social gathering like a party or a funeral is involved, and they take place years apart, from the early twentieth century through into the beginning of the twenty first. Yet the characters and the dialogue do pull it all together, and the common thread, Cecil, influences each and every part of the book. It’s very British, very beautifully written, and I’m giving it a 9/10.
Beginning before the outbreak of the First World War, George Sawle, the youngest son of a comfortable middle class Home Counties family, brings home his wealthy and aristocratic university friend, Cecil Valance, a handsome, confident budding poet, and it is Cecil and his family home that form the backbone of the book. (But really, it’s George’s sister Daphne who almost steals the show – especially as she’s the one who lives the longest and appears in the most scenes, from giddy girlhood, infatuated by Cecil, through her marriage to his brother, affairs, and general ups and downs of life to old age in a cottage with her long suffering son.)
Cecil is a Rupert Brookes type character, writing poetry and then dying in the trenches, and his legacy endures not only in his marble tomb at the family estate, but as a subject of a biography. The relationships of everyone else in the novel pivot around their relationships with him, even those who never met him, and it is a book that focuses on gay male relationships, which, given the time frame of the book, take us through the years of concealment to the open acceptance of same sex marriage in our time. Fundamentally, I feel this was the central theme, alongside the irreparable damage it is possible to inflict on children especially.
I really enjoyed reading this, although I took it quite slowly as I have been so busy getting BeckyandVince up and running again over here in Australia – reading has become a treasured escape from work once again. Not complaining though, the Mum’s Books Project is where the business started from, and I do love making my book thongs and sending them off around the world – Mum, I like to think, would have been quite proud what I’ve accomplished, although moving home to Australia stopped the wheels moving for some time.
So, book review number 100 to start 2022 – I’d love to gift this, Mum’s copy, forward if you’d like to read it so please get in touch either here or through the Instagram/Facebook pages, links below. And if you’d be kind enough to check out my new Australian Etsy shop and the delicious book thongs it contains, I’d be super grateful! I’m offering my lovely Mum’s Books Peeps a bit of a discount to celebrate reaching 100 on all the book thongs in store – use the code MUMSBOOKS01 at checkout for a tasty 10% off!
And – THANK YOU for being you, and being here!