Monday, 24 September 2018

An Interview With Elizabeth Lowry

Dark Water, Elizabeth Lowry’s second novel, was published on September 6th to great acclaim.
The Guardian’s Book of the Day, The Times’ Critic’s Choice and Book of the Month. Historia Magazine included it in their list of best recent historical writing. Numerous bloggers, including myself, and other publications are running out of superlatives. With good reason. It is a work of depth and substance that only comes along once in a while. 

I am thrilled beyond measure to have had the opportunity to interview Elizabeth. So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I present - An Interview with Elizabeth Lowry.

 Dark Water has left a lasting impression on me. There’s been so much to think about long after I closed the book. My mind boggles at the thought of how you approached the planning and plotting of this story. Can you give us some insight into the initial motivation for the book and how the idea for it first came to you?

Well, I’m interested in questions of identity and how we define personality. After you asked me this I went back to my very first notebook for Dark Water (I had three in the end) and found I’d scribbled down this remark by Primo Levi: ‘Man is a mixed-up creature; and he becomes all the more confused, we might add, the more he is subjected to tensions: at that point he evades our judgement, just as a compass goes wild at the magnetic pole’. William Borden sprang out of that, I think, and out of a love of Melville’s sea stories.

 The novel is offered as an historical novel, although I found it to be much more than that. But you must have had to do some extensive research. I found the narrative to be so realistic and convincing, I never doubted for a moment that I WAS back to 1833 Massachusetts. I also wondered if you actually spent some time below decks on a ship, the descriptions were so palpable? Can you tell us a little about the research you undertook?

I didn’t know much at all about ships (though unlike Hiram Carver, I don’t get seasick!) before I began to write Dark Water. It was quite an education. I had before me the painful example of Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket without doing his homework. A scathing early review pointed out that in Chapter One the jib of a ship in a storm is still mysteriously flying even though the mast has been ‘carried away’ by the waves just moments before. (The jib is a small triangular sail that is set ahead of the foremast and is usually rigged to a stay extending from it. Oops.)
I found Melville a good teacher – his memoir White-Jacket about his stint on a US man-of-war was written expressly to explain the ins and outs of life at sea to landlubbers like me. We also share some source material. The route steered across the Pacific by Borden following the Providence mutiny draws on the real-life story of what happened after the Nantucket whaleship Essex was sunk by a whale in 1820. On losing the ship the survivors made for the coast of South America in open boats. An account of this disaster and their journey was published by the first mate, Owen Chase, and was used by Melville as the basis for Moby-Dick (though he was much more interested in the whale). I had help too in the form of marvellous sea-going accounts by other sailors of the time, such as Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast describing his experiences as an ordinary merchant seaman. Dana was a gentleman sailor (like Melville) who enlisted for the adventure of it, rather than from necessity. Once he’d had enough he could afford, unlike your average tar, to go home and retrain as a lawyer. That’s why his book isn’t called Ten Years Before the Mast!
I didn’t get to tour a real wooden man-of-war until I’d already written the early scenes on the Orbis, and took a trip to Boston, where the USS Constitution is kept in dry dock. It was useful to be able to check if I’d got the physical details right. You know, though, when approaching Dark Water I wasn’t drawn so much to the technicalities of ships or sailing as to what a nineteenth-century man-of-war could represent – an enclosed community with a rigid hierarchy and its own inflexible rules. The metaphysics of ships, if you like.

 Geographically that part of the USA is one of my favourite parts, especially Martha’s Vineyard. There is an indefinable thrill associated with those islands and I always feel that affinity when I read about them. I regret never visiting Nantucket. It seems crucial to the book. It conjures the ghosts of Melville and Moby-Dick, adding another atmospheric layer to the story. Are those places familiar to you or did you make some special trips?

I was born in Washington DC but left at a very early age, and hadn’t been back to the east coast at all until I tackled this book. I’d written a good chunk of Dark Water when I decided I’d better go and take a look at the places in it: Boston, of course, but Nantucket especially. It’s easy to get a sense of Boston and its history from paper sources; Nantucket was more slippery. An island has a totally different sense of space to the mainland. I spent about two weeks in Massachusetts in the summer of 2016, walking around Boston’s Beacon Hill and climbing all over Old Ironsides, as I mentioned just now, before staying in a tiny grey shingled cottage in Sconset on Nantucket – pretty much as Carver does, except that I didn’t have a Mrs Bunker to cook my meals.

Hiram Carver? He is the supreme paradox of us all! He behaved abominably at times, especially towards his own sister and her happiness. Yet in spite of it I simply couldn’t bring myself to dislike him. There’s something within him that seems to be within us all maybe? He and Borden seem to be two halves of a dichotomous whole. How did you go about creating such characters? Or did they eventually start to develop themselves!? I’ve heard some writers speak of how once created the characters do go on to develop their selves almost as if the writer has no part in it!

I’m so glad you don’t completely dislike Carver. I don’t either. The challenge, as with William Borden, was to write someone who couldn’t be pinned down too easily. I felt I had to give him some significant redeeming features, in the form of his youthful anti-authoritarianism, his willingness to question the mores of his time and place, and his instinctive sympathy for the social outcasts he is treating at the asylum. Once I got going he added his own flourishes. But of course he is the worst cannibal in the book. By the end he has consumed Ruth Macy as surely as he consumed Richard Mansfield, Frank Goodwin, Adam Thornton, his sister Caro, and William Borden. The irony is that he’s also trapped himself. By achieving a position of supremacy in the society he once despised, he has – as he knows full well – given up his last chance at freedom. 

 The sea as a metaphor is wonderfully sustained throughout the book and together with considerations as to the real meaning of madness encourages the reader to ponder the frailty of the human soul. When Hiram suggests to Ruth that all we’ve created out of freedom is a prison it struck such a mournful chord with me because it’s so inviolably true. I found it a pivotal moment in the story and I wondered whether it was your intention to throw these metaphysical ideas out there in the hope that the reader might ponder some solutions?

Yes, absolutely. And if anyone can find a solution, I’d love to hear it.

 The book has much to say about the invisible line between sanity and insanity. The passages set in the asylum were both fascinating historically and sociologically. All too easy to ‘get it wrong’ but you didn’t! How did you set about writing these sections of the book?

Writing the asylum sections was tricky because I was hoping to show how fine that line can be, and how common, even ordinary, mental disturbance is – but couldn’t use any of the vocabulary we have at our disposal in the age of psychiatry. When I was reading the memoirs of some nineteenth-century asylum patients it seemed obvious that a few of them suffered from maladies which would now be quite easily treatable with psychodynamic medication, and this got me thinking. I wanted to approach these scenes through a sort of double perspective. In the book Adam Thornton, for example, clearly has what we’d today call bipolar disorder, with a two-to-three-week depressive phase, followed by a month-long build up to mania. Richard Mansfield insists that Thornton is mad, but Borden and Carver sense that something else is at play here, and the modern reader will too. What is ‘madness’, anyway? The doctors and attendants aren’t exempt: Richard Mansfield is a morphine addict; Felicity Joy exhibits a form of OCD when washing the asylum floors; Frank Goodwin is a binge eater. The younger Carver himself, whose refusal of food is really a rejection of his overbearing family and everything they represent, is anorexic.

 Suffering, whether oblique or realised, physical or emotional, play a huge part in the book. So many contemporary parallels, for example Richard’s dependence on drugs, Frank’s relationship with food, Hiram’s confusion with his sexuality take this beyond the historical. Was it emotionally demanding to write?

I wrote the book during a period of great personal stress and sadness and the wonderful thing was that I knew, while writing it, that it was acting as a very real life preserver for me. So yes, it was demanding, but not more demanding than actually getting through that time. 

 For me the most uplifting characters are the patients in the asylum! They seemed to have ‘got it right’! Was that your intention or am I… insane?!

You are quite clearly bonkers. Just joking – spot on. As Carver says, they’re at liberty to express the sorts of foibles and idiosyncrasies the rest of us have to keep in check. That can be quite appealing.

 Quite coincidentally as I was writing these questions I noticed that you had referenced Janet Frame on one of the social media platforms. I’ve always found Faces in the Water to be a seminal work regarding sanity, insanity and institutions and wondered whether her work had any influence on your writing?

Janet Frame is an expert at rendering mental anguish. I recently tweeted an excerpt from the second volume of her autobiography, An Angel at My Table, because I’m including it in a feature for the Guardian on my ‘Top Ten Books’ about psychiatric institutions. Her story is truly horrifying. She was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic in 1945 and spent eight years in and out of mental hospitals in her native New Zealand. In spite of this she managed to write a collection of short stories, The Lagoon. In 1954 she was scheduled to have a lobotomy, when the doctor who was due to perform the procedure read in the paper that her book had won a national literary prize. He cancelled the operation and she was released from hospital. In her autobiography she says, without any exaggeration, ‘My writing saved me.’

 How do you approach your writing? By that I am wondering if you have a special place, special time, any special routines and rituals?

At the moment writing is my day job, though this hasn’t always been the case. I write between dropping my children off at school and picking them up again, a working day of about six hours. It never seems long enough. I was a teacher for many years and I’ve written while taking detention and before registration in the mornings. When I’m away from home I set my laptop up on a bedside locker and write there. You can’t afford to have special rituals or be too fussy about your circumstances when your next thought is liable to be interrupted by someone saying “Mu-uum”. (Hello kids, I love you too.)
 I know that being an avid reader is almost compulsory for a writer so a question I always ask is if you can remember the first book you read that moved you to tears, if any?

Not sure if I can pinpoint the very first book that moved me to tears, but I do recall, with weird immediacy, learning the alphabet itself. I was at the Walworth Barbour American School in Israel and must have been about five years old. We were taught the alphabet with an ingenious story flip-chart. In this story you were taken on a journey through a jungle, over mountains, across seas and deserts, and each day, as you travelled, you met a new letter. An audio cassette tape played alongside and made it all seem doubly real (there were no interactive whiteboards or DVDs then – this was the 1970s). I really had no idea what came after A, or B, or C, so every day was a total cliff hanger. I lived for these sessions and I was forlorn when we reached Z and they stopped. The excitement I felt for those 26 days is still vivid to me – I’ve probably never known anything like it since. Just thinking about it has made my heart thump.

 And finally having enjoyed this novel so much I am bound to ask when we can expect another new one! And is there anything you can tell us about it?

Soon, I hope. I’m working on a novel about Thomas Hardy, set in the weeks immediately following the sudden death of his first wife, Emma. In the thirty-eight years they were married their relationship had become very strained: though they were living in the same house they only met once a day, over dinner, and had stopped speaking to each other. But he is shattered by the loss of her. Then, while he is still overwhelmed by grief, he finds a record she has written about their life together in which she accuses him of a very specific and very terrible thing (you’ll have to wait and see what that is), and he has to start re-evaluating their entire marriage – and himself.
The novel is called The Chosen, after one of Hardy’s poems. While describing it to you I’ve realised that like Dark Water it’s a story about suffering and the unknowability of the other, even the people to whom we’re supposedly closest. And about memory and identity and the mystery of human motivation. Which brings us back to where we started our interview, doesn’t it?

My heartfelt thanks to Elizabeth for this frank, informative, erudite  and entertaining interview. If you’d like to hear more of her I include a link to a radio interview Elizabeth did for BBC Oxford with Kate Orman -

And my thanks, yet again, to the wonderful Ana McLaughlin at Quercus books for introducing me to this book in the first place and for facilitating  this interview. 

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Astroturf - Matthew Sperling

At the risk of sounding sexist and non pc I will admit that as I began to read this novella I feared I might lack the correct genitalia to fully appreciate its many nuances. As I read on I felt a little bewildered by the story. I wasn’t naive enough to believe it was a book about fake grass! But I was quite taken aback by the two main thrusts of the book - steroid use and astroturfing.

Without doubt it is well written with a sparkling wit, it’s concise and pithy. The language is economic but nothing is missed. It’s a fine example of salient writing. Characterisations, too, are finely tuned. The main character, Ned, not dysfunctional exactly but more than a little flawed. Not in the first flush of youth, he is in his thirties. he has a steady, if unexciting, job and is clearly dissatisfied with himself. So he begins to address his difficulties by using steroids to improve his physical self. This was a revelation to me and I found the book informative and comprehensive regarding the use of steroids by athletes. Not that I approve!! 

Ned feels improved, physically and mentally, by his steroid use and seeks to improve his life further by developing a business around steroids. I don’t wish to give away anything but this is the astroturfing section of the book which I found to be a little dubious, morally. 

I appreciate the frankness with which the story is told but found myself uneasy about the apparent lack of morality and illegality. I felt sure our lead character would get his come uppance at the end of the book. And I won’t spoil it by saying whether he did or didn’t!! 

What the book did do was to make me consider how male and female perceptions of themselves can be destructive to a greater or lesser degree. We read so much of female difficulties; for example  eating disorders associated with poor self image but I hadn’t fully considered that men can suffer the same crisis of self that can lead them down the path that Ned took. 

The book also confirmed my fear that the internet can be a murky,corrupt and dishonest place and the book shows how easy it is, with a modicum of expertise, to exploit that environment. 

And I am still left a little bewildered. t’s a staggeringly contemporary novel, it’s for Now without a doubt. The cyber world shifts so quickly and insidiously that the astroturf of today will have morphed into something else by tomorrow. But I still have a final sense of ambiguity. Is this book a savage indictment of the times we live in? Or is it a well observed piece about the place of men in our modern world, the compulsive, addictive power of drugs to dominate lives? Or is it ‘just’ a story about one guy with an identity crisis and how he ‘overcomes’ it? And this is probably one of the cleverest aspects of this fiction for the ball is very much in the readers court! Make up your own minds, folks! 

I’m glad I have read it for I feel better informed. I didn’t know what a sock puppet was before I read this! (Other than the obvious of course!! )

My thanks to Bookbridgr and Ana McLaughlin at Quercus and riverrun for the opportunity to read this tale. 

Friday, 14 September 2018

Dark Water - Elizabeth Lowry

When I read an endorsement on the front cover from Hilary Mantel I experienced a little frisson of electric anticipation. Whilst some cover plaudits can almost put me off a book this had the opposite effect. But I needn’t have worried. No number of endorsements could have disturbed my pleasure at this dark, rich, gothic tale.

Described as historical fiction it is so much more. It is a novel of deep perception about what we might casually call the human condition. An insight and acknowledgement of the paradox that is the human spirit. All beautifully explored within the sustained metaphor of the sea that is ‘dark water’. And it is dark and murky water indeed. 

The sea sequences in the book are palpably described and the action aboard the USS Orbis, particularly, is so well written you can almost smell the ship and the ocean, hear the creaking of the masts and the ropes, wince at the odour of unwashed sailors. It’s a marvellously protracted piece of descriptive writing that arouses in the reader a plethora of emotion from almost sea sickness to a kind of claustrophobia leading to horror at some of the events described. 

The land part of the novel is set in that glorious region of the USA, New England, in Charlestown, Boston and the mysterious island of Nantucket. I was on Martha's Vineyard once, South Beach, and my hosts pointed out Nantucket to me in the distance. The ghost of Captain Ahab weaved into my mind and has always left me with a curious sensation that the island was a mystical place. This book has done nothing to dispel that feeling! Beautifully described the place presents as a complete contrast to the descriptions of Boston. 

The novel’s narrator, Hiram Carver, is a mass of contradictions. You want to hug him and slap him, scream at him and shake him, soothe him and berate him. But most of all you want to understand him for if you can do that you might begin to understand yourself maybe.  He is a doctor and it is this profession that sees him aboard the Orbis where he meets William Borden. Borden is another mass of contradictions. Lauded for his apparent bravery abroad his previous ship the Providence he seems to mesmerise Carver. As the synchronicity of life intervenes Carver finds Borden a patient of his in his new found specialisation as psychiatrist in an asylum in Charlestown. Borden is apparently mad. 

This was one of the book’s many strengths for me; the examination of sanity and insanity and the almost invisible line that separates the two. The consideration of how either of those states affects our everyday lives and ultimately our mental and emotional freedom. There is a marvellous passage which I wish to quote in full - 

Ma’am, I sense terror in the everyday. And I don’t believe we’ve solved the problem of how to live.We’ve made that terror safe, merely by going along with the old ways and the old forms. We should be free to question, we should be free to reinvent, we should be free to feel that terror, the terrible freedom of being uncertain - but we aren’t; we cling to our false certainty and call it freedom and we can’t see what we’ve really created out of freedom is a prison.’ 

Such powerful words that could be applied to our contemporary world. And whilst we read that and then we read of the philosophy of care applied at the asylum you end up wondering whether it is those named as ‘insane’ who are the only ones to truly understand life and living. And thus - 

We are all at sea, sailing over dark waters.

Carver seems obsessed by Borden and there is a subtle sub text here that in part explains his desire to understand him. The revelations of Borden are both shocking yet the astute reader may possibly have gleaned the truth in part.  And there is another maxim in the book that I feel worth quoting  -

If we don’t believe in the suffering of others, how can we believe in our own?’

And it seems the more that Hiram sees the suffering of others the more he suffers himself even if it doesn’t prompt him to act any differently.

The book is populated with diverse characters, skilfully drawn to play their part in the overall narrative but also to come alive for the reader. Characters that tug at our compassion, Hiram’s sister. Caro, for example. Characters that repulse us, like Captain Fitzgibbon, or Borden’s description of him!! Richard Mansfield, dependent yet decisive. So many paradoxes, so much duality. 

I could go on! But I won’t. You will have got the general idea that this book is quite something! This isn’t just a book, this is literature. 

My thanks to Bookbridgr and Ana McLaughlin at Quercus and riverrun for the opportunity to read this remarkable story. 

Thursday, 13 September 2018

The Stranger - Kate Riordan

Kate Riordan has the auspicious honour of being the author of the first book I ever bought for my kindle. Almost the last too as I’m not a fan of the device. It was Birdcage Walk an historical novel which I enjoyed very much. But it was The Girl in the Photograph that cemented my affinity to Ms. Riordan’s style of writing and I’ve read pretty much all of her work since. She writes ‘big house’ books and she writes them very well. 

The Stranger is an atmospheric novel with the same ‘flavour’ of her previous books. It was a delight to see how a writer develops their style and intent with each book they write. I had previously obliquely referred to Daphne Du Maurier in a review of The Girl in the Photograph I wrote (pre blog days to save you searching ;-))and I note that here the writer unashamedly acknowledges her affinity to that incredible writer (and Agatha Christie). This book, maybe more than any of the others, has a strong Du Maurier flavour. Maybe it’s the location, Du Maurier’s beloved Cornwall but I think it’s more.

The historical research, as ever, is authentic and detailed. You really feel you are in 1940’s Cornwall. Three Land Girls are at Penhallow Hall doing their bit for the wartime effort. Rose, Diana and Jane all dealing with their secrets and their demons. The occupants of the house, Eleanor and her ageing mother, have their secrets too. When all come together and when one damaged yet determined young lady is determined to open as many cans of worms as she can the results are explosive. 

The setting is perfect and so well realised. The names, Breakheart Cove, Blackbottle Creek, so Cornish, so atmospheric and palpable. The war time setting adds an additional threat to the already menacing ambience. The characters solidly drawn. Diana Devlin, a veneer of abject unpleasantness and manipulation dictates her actions and it’s only when we delve below that outer covering we see some of the reasons. Rose, ostensibly a typical and average woman of her era but in possession of a wider intent as she takes her place at Penhallow. And Jane, plain maybe, her story less accessible until the reveals towards the end of the book although it is possible to reach the correct conclusion about her, all the clues are there.

Structurally the book begins with a beguiling prologue that hints, chillingly, of what is to come. Subsequent chapters take the form of Diana’s diary which enables the reader to catch a glimpse of this dysfunctional mind and some straightforward third person story telling narrative. There is a delicious twist towards the end, unexpected to say the least. And somehow the ghost of Daphne Du Maurier, and Rebecca maybe,  pervades it all.

The story flows, pleasingly, competently and was immensely satisfying to read. My thanks to Penguin for rewarding me with a copy of this book. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Missing Christina - Meredith Whitford

This review was originally part of a LoveBooksGroup blog tour for Nudge Books. The full blog tour article can be viewed here which does include the following review.

Meredith Whitford is a new name to me and my cursory impression was that this may be a ‘chic litty’ sort of tale but it wasn’t at all. It was an engrossing read spanning a couple of continents and several decades. Some injections of humour balanced out some of the more serious parts of the story. I thought the grief and bereavement aspects were well done. I think if you’ve lost a parent there’s much here that will resonate with you. There’s no attempt to sugar coat the emotional devastation. 

I enjoyed how this writer struck a delicate balance between a deceptively light read and some pretty serious issues which was not evident at the beginning of the book. The opening pages introduce us to most of the main players which I found an effective device compared to many writers who allow their characters to develop through the progress of the story. Of course that does happen here as well to a degree but there is a sense of having got to know nearly everyone right from the start, especially Jacques the narrator, before the story proper takes off! I think without exception they all have baggage of one kind or another - issues that seem to resolve within the basic framework of Christina’s heart wrenching story. 

It seems to be a book of balances; the contemporary world and a world gone by from the nineteen sixties and the author skilfully highlights the cultural differences of the age with references to things like email in one era and traveller cheques from another. Sensitive issues such as adoption and homosexuality are dealt with appropriately, compassionately and honestly.

There’s an intriguing family mystery which takes Jacques  from the UK to Australia and back again before he can finally unravel the web of secrecy and although some aspects are obvious the ends are conscientiously  tied up . 

For those who argue that it is a tad far fetched it’s a work of fiction, a tale to immerse yourself in with some good writing, some entertainment and a little to make you think a bit. It’s over wordy maybe in places, but overall there’s less to object to and more to delight in. 

It’s a perfect holiday/ weekend read. It demands just enough of you without being too draining on the emotions. I doubt I could have enjoyed it any more than I did even I had received it as a proper book rather than an e-book!

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

The Belting Inheritance - Julian Symons

Belting by name and belting by nature! This was a delight from the first word to the last full stop. A wonderful gothic spider web of family secrets and intrigues that have you second guessing all the way through. It’s not a new premise, stranger returns claiming to be long lost relative but this 1964 exposition of the theme is extraordinarily well done.

Our protagonist is Christopher Barrington ‘adopted’ in a manner by the formidable Lady Wainwright mourning her two sons, casualties of WW2, although she has two other sons,Miles and Stephen who do not seem to provoke the same level of maternal solicitation that the lost two do! So when David,  one of the lost sons, appears to return the ailing Lady W. is required to reconsider her inheritance. And then a body is found…………

What follows is Christopher’s attempts to unravel the labyrinth of family secrets and to ascertain whether everyone is who they say they are. A quest which takes him to London, Brighton and Paris. It’s a well written, well plotted story for the most part. There’s a repleteness to the language and the pace which makes for a very satisfying read. 

There are characters of varying intensity, Christopher maintains his dogged, youthful zeal in trying to solve the myriad questions that events throw up. Uncle Miles is a fount of light relief and his spoonerisms quite amusing not to mention his propensity to turn up everywhere! Everybody else fits somewhere inbetween!

Out of the blue I was reminded of Herges Adventures of Tin Tin. I think it was the sequences in Paris where characters kept popping up like the Thompson Twins do in the cartoon!! You could argue that this is a tad contrived but the book is so good that you forgive everything! 

Astute readers will figure out several aspects of the final denouement without all the detail maybe but the writer does an admirable job of tying up all the ends. It’s a belting good read and another feather in the cap of the British Library. 

Monday, 10 September 2018

The Colour of Murder - Julian Symons

A simple enough premise. Unexceptional, unhappily married man crosses paths with a girl he finds irresistibly attractive. Almost obsessed his life spirals off course and he finds himself on trial for murder. First published in 1957 this novel falls into two parts - a monologue for psychiatric assessment, by the protagonists John Wilkins, and an intense trial in the court room. Dare I surmise that if such a tale were to be written today instead of two distinct parts the two would be interwoven with each other and both scenarios would unfold simultaneously? 

However the structure works exceptionally well in this fifties piece of crime writing that had me absorbed from beginning to end. The first part where we hear of events from Wilkins perceptive I found myself reminded of Patricia Highsmith where you will the character not to behave in a certain way or make a certain decision because you know it will end in disaster. The second part is as tight a piece of court room writing as you’ll ever read and as such keeps you on your toes throughout. You don’t want to miss a comma let alone a word!!

It’s a marvellously solid plot, simple in its complexity. It couldn’t work today of course because forensics would ascertain some certainties straight away. In a way that's what makes it so delicious to read!! It also subtly raises questions about the very nature of justice itself.

The characters are almost without exception functional which I feel is a deliberate device because there is no need to engage with any of them sympathetically apart from maybe the murder victim, poor soul! Mr. Wilkins has an almost pathetic unpleasantness but never pathetic enough for us to feel especially sorry for him. The reader is allowed to remain objective; the psychiatric report is as factual as the trial proceedings. It’s a marvellously controlled piece of writing for I imagine it must be hard for a writer not to allow his characters to engage? 

The final denouement is as unexpected as it is obvious, well almost obvious? There was always the possibility but it was so understated the reader can only doubt themselves. 

Once again my thanks to the British Library for allowing me the privilege of reading this compelling tale. I’d like to say you’ve done it again, guys! But I think I’ve already said something along those lines in a previous review!  Oh, check out the cover, another retro travel poster beauty.