Marching with April by Hugo Charteris

My final read for 1956 is a book I didn’t even realise qualified at first, and certainly isn’t one I’d intended to pick up. The author is Hugo Charteris, a writer whose work is unfairly neglected and who is being championed by Michael Walmer; he’s reissued three of Charteris’s titles, and kindly provided copies for review. I read “A Share of the World” and reviewed it back in 2015, finding it a wonderful read, full of beautiful and individual prose. Mike reminded me that “Marching with April” qualified for entry into the #1956Club and as it sounded like a quirky comedy set mainly in Scotland, I really couldn’t resist….

While Lionel thought of this period a clerk sent out with letters saw his face and skirted him by a yard.

“Marches” tells the story of one Lionel Spote. A rather highly strung individual, fresh from a course of psychoanalysis, his view on the world is often dour and fragmented; his interactions with the everyday seem never straightforward and his mood can be measured by how out of alignment his shoulders seem to be… Lionel works for a publisher where the most stressful tasks seem to be dealing with the temperaments and eccentricities of the authors. However, suddenly Lionel inherits a country pile (Rossiemurchat) in Scotland from a great-uncle, a life changing event. Travelling north, throwing off (temporarily) the interfering nature of his mother, Lionel determines to sell the place and get back to his normal life. However, he has reckoned without in the influence of the local MP, the landscape and location, and of course his neighbours – the redoubtable April Gunter-Sykes (whose land ‘marches’ alongside Lionel’s) and her lovely but elusive daughter Laura. Quite how the enervated Lionel will cope with all this remains to be seen…

Lunacy, eccentricity – all forms of unrelatedness should be treated clinically. Instead they were elected to Parliament.

It’s clear from my readings of his first two novels that Charteris was a very individual writer, and I love this about his books. “Marching” is a very funny, very entertaining and, it has to be said, very odd read; the narrative is often fragmented and staccato, mirroring I think the state of Lionel’s mind, and following his quirky thought processes is very diverting! There’s also a darkness underlying it all, and I found myself worrying a little about Lionel’s fragile and often detached psyche as the book went on. I commented in my review of “Share….” on the fluidity of his writing , with the narrative often shifting perspective rapidly, and that’s even more the case here. The often elliptical, clipped and allusive prose (references to T.S. Eliot!) is clever though sometimes a little baffling; and though I loved it, I do think you have to be in the mood for this kind of writing! Interestingly, the novel comes with an introduction from Frederic Raphael and also reproduces a review of “Marching” by no less than Elizabeth Bowen. It seems from the book’s dedication to ‘Charles & Elizabeth’ that they may have been friends…

“Marching with April” was a great book to end the week with and I’m glad the #1956club prompted me to read it. It’s a book that warrants close and careful reading, and it’s a very rewarding one, full of memorable characters and locations; also very, very funny in places. Charteris really is an unfairly neglected author and kudos to Mike Walmer for championing and re-issuing his work!

(Thanks to Mike Walmer for kindly provide a review copy, and for his patience in waiting until the book found me at the right time! If you want to read an excellent piece on the re-issues, the TLS have covered them here)