As has obviously become a habit, Mr. Kaggsy is pitching in halfway through our club reading week to offer a guest review on a favourite book. Inevitably, with him being a film buff, it’s one that has a movie linked to it. However, I’ve both seen the film and read the book in this case and, unusually, agree that both are excellent. So here goes with his post, and let’s see if any of you have read or seen this one and have any views! 😀

Accident by Nicholas Mosley

From the opening sentence Trees at night are like an army marching, to the closing one Remember it happy; the sun in your eyes, I was captivated by Mosley’s unique writing style in his novel Accident. The book was first published in hardback by Hodder and Stoughton in 1965 (shown above left), with a second printing appearing soon afterwards. At the time, the writer was described as one who “gives the reader a new pair of eyes to see with”. A US hardback appeared in 1966, published by Coward-McCann (shown above, right).

An Oxford undergraduate, athletic aristocrat William Codrington, dies in a car accident and the story takes the reader back over the tangle of personal relationships leading up to his death. The interlinked characters are his university philosophy tutor, Stephen Jervis, fellow professor and family friend Charlie, married to Laura, daughter of a millionaire, Stephen’s pregnant wife Rosalind and their two young children, plus the key character Austrian student Anna von Graz, her mother being English. After the author deals with the opening shock of the accident, the story goes back from chapter two, allowing earlier events to unfold.

Nicholas Mosley, who died in 2017, was 3rd Baron Ravensdale, 7th Baronet, MC, FRSL, the son of Sir Oswald Mosley and half-brother of Max Mosley, Formula One racing former president. His novel was made into an exquisite film with not too many changes, but with a different emphasis.

As with some of my other reviews, to me the book and film merge, Mosley even having a screen cameo in the movie, with its excellent screenplay by Harold Pinter. While on the subject of appearances, Carole Caplin appears as Stephen’s daughter, much later becoming the ‘life guru’ of Tony and Cherie Blair, attracting much publicity at the time and from a subsequent libel action.

Staying with the film for a moment, the Joseph Losey directed production received many awards and nominations, enhanced by an atmospheric score from jazz musician and composer John Dankworth. On screen the locations of Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’ blend with the novel’s prose. A balmy afternoon, cricket match, drinks extending a lazy lunch into a suppertime stupor. Such are the scenes played out visually in the film, with some conjured up romantically in the book.

Paperbacks: Four Square Books 1967; Signet 1967 (US) Penguin 1971.

William’s upper-class background and Charlie’s media and sexual success make Stephen reflect on his own relatively pedestrian existence. Of the two middle-aged males (played in the film by Dirk Bogarde and Stanley Baker respectively), Stephen has an uneventful marriage, bolstered by the addition of two infant children and the imminent arrival of another, while his counterpart is in a childless union, his roving eye not impeded by age or matrimony. The story’s narration could be provided by either of the men, at times possibly changing over, depending from whose point of view events are being experienced or witnessed.

Into the life of Stephen come two very different students, William, full of youthful energy, and the beguiling Anna, soon to become the young man’s girlfriend. She is seen by the dons as virtually a fantasy figure, they being attracted by her beauty and unattainability, but their thoughts of elation soured by mutual competition and by the positions they hold, both at work and at home.

Stephen is comfortable, no more than that, in his vocation, while Charlie has enjoyed some media success. The former is a teacher by day and husband when he reaches home, neither situation affecting or impinging upon the other, while Charlie is charismatic, unapologetic regarding his impulsive behaviour. Their unchanging lives rely on each either as anchors, one envying the other’s freedom, the more adventurous of the pair using his ally as a trusted confidant and even his home as an occasional refuge.

Bored with married life and academia, the somewhat stifled Stephen dreams of a relationship with his young student Anna. Although having little regard for her titled background, he uses his learned position to impress her. He employs the same approach towards the privileged William, whose youthful vitality he envies, acting as if to undermine him and discourage him from pursuing Anna. Meanwhile, contemporary and rival Charlie senses that Stephen has designs on his beautiful student, but simply sees his own ‘conquest’ of the young woman as carnal, not even an act of one-upmanship over his colleague. So an added obstacle to Stephen’s desires are her two main suitors, William, whose youthful vitality he envies, and Charlie whose career success and virility he covets. When Charlie’s yearnings are fulfilled in respect of Anna, Stephen feels emasculated, torn between needing to support his heavily pregnant wife and his desire for Anna. While his wife and children are away he revisits and old girlfriend in London, briefly rekindling their past affair. His return is met with finding Charlie and Anna using his home as a convenient love nest.

As events are inevitably coming to a head, William’s fatal accident becomes bizarrely a solution, ridding Stephen of Anna and his guilt, also ending the affair Charlie was by now wanting to get out of, thus almost restoring circumstances back to how they were. Accident involves the reader in the untwisting of events as the characters at the same time strive to make sense of their own respective situations. For one spouse the giving of life to children and parenting of them is reward itself. For the other life is at times miserable, Stephen’s lot remaining stable but unsatisfying, while Charlie’s approach to life is spontaneous, but without substance.

N R F Gallimard 1968 (France); Minerva 1993; Dalkey Archive Press 2006 (US)

Some of Mosley’s reflections help strengthen an otherwise simple story. “An accident is different from reality,” he muses, and explains how philosophy “deals with questions to which there are no specific answers.” Perhaps Stephen, or any of us, may occasionally wonder what might have been, how one’s life could easily have unfolded differently. In the book events are eclipsed by the accident, a shocking and tragic occurrence, but which paradoxically provides a way out.

The end of the book imagines that Charlie could be writing the story, although in which case the events would not have been the same as were experienced by or seen through the eyes of Stephen. The story provokes thought, operating on added levels, the sentences are short and there is much dialogue, although many inventive descriptions are woven in. Expressed thoughts of the ‘narrator’ overlap each other, as if wanting to portray a scene simultaneously from more than one angle, as a film might. Thus the way life’s events are related or seem will depend on the way they are viewed.

Original film poster; US DVD 2001; Blu-ray restored disc 2013


Thanks to Mr. Kaggsy for sharing some thoughts on what is a much-loved film and book of his!  I saw the film originally at a much too young age to understand it, when I had a huge crush on Michael York; but on revisiting it and reading the book I can see its merits, and the book is certainly beautifully-written and atmospheric. I wonder how much Mosley is read nowadays; has anyone else read his works??