Home

#1956Club – High Jinks in the Highlands!

17 Comments

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)

War, and the Decline of the Aristocracy

13 Comments

A Share of the World by Hugo Charteris

As anyone reading this blog might have guessed, I’m a bit of a sucker for forgotten and neglected novelist. So one of my ideal publishers is Michael Walmer, and he’s rediscovered a cracker in the form of Hugo Charteris, whose first novel “A Share of the World” has just been reissued by the imprint. Coming with an interesting introduction by the author’s daughter, it seems a good place to begin!

Charteris is a charismatic-sounding man; of aristocratic lineage (he was the grandson of the 11th Earl of Wemyss), he led a peripatetic life, moving through Eton, Oxford, Malaya, Java, Sutherland, finally ending up in Yorkshire where he died at the age of 48 in 1970.

During his life he wrote constantly alongside a military career, a period in PR and much journalism. Probably nowadays he would be best remembered for his TV work, including the series “Take Three Girls”, and his novels seem to have very much disappeared from the scene – which is a shame, judging from this, his first.

share

“A Share of the World” tells the story of John Grant, who narrates; based, I’m sure, on Charteris himself, Grant is an office in the middle of the Italian campaign of the second world war. From an upper-class background, he would obviously be part of the officer class but he seems singularly ill-equipped to deal with his role.

Throughout part one of the book, the elliptical, poetic prose slips between Grant’s present (planning and carrying out a patrol to check on the presence of Germans) and various incidents in his past (nightmares and visions as a child; trials at schools; falling in love with a 14-year-old). And the common thread is that at any point of importance in his life he seems to experience a kind of paralysis, having to force himself to take action.

The nature of the fear felt in nightmares is hard to describe by relating it to other things and hard to remember except by chance. It is akin to hysteria, vertigo, impotence, and for those people like John who sometimes used the word Evil with a capital E, as though it existed outside the mind of man, it is akin to Evil. It seldom breaks through into waking life except in the elusive and transitory taste of a sudden association. In the natural world the commonest similar experience seems to be in the eyes of a rabbit fixed by a stoat, screaming with good reason before it’s hurt, but not able to move easily away as it could.

This paralysis seems strongest when in the company of one of his men, Bright; the latter is an unpleasant, dishonest person and he serves in the story almost as a kind of demon pursuing Grant, who feels trapped in the web of his own existence, unable to act and almost an unreal person.

The patrol, of course, goes horribly wrong, and Grant’s war is over. The second part of the book deals with his life post-war. The old certainties have gone, the aristocracy is crumbling and John Grant has no place in the world, feeling like some kind of un-person. He becomes fixated with Jane Matlock, daughter of Sir Wilfred and Lady ‘Neenie’, and sister of Christopher Matlock, who Grant knows slightly. John is convinced that if he marries Jane he will become a ‘real man’, a person with an existence instead of a kind of ghost presence. However, Christopher, who has been much affected by the war and has taken to drink, believes that Jane is so locked into her role as a kind of Lady Bountiful that she doesn’t exist as a real person either. So John’s attempts to ground himself in the modern world seem doomed to disaster, as he and Jane are at cross-purposes most of the time. Meanwhile, the ancient order continues to collapse, John spends a bizarre Christmas with the Matlocks, and Christopher is refusing to take over the family home, Edgeby.

We have only one life as far as we know. One third sleep. Why make another third even more negative than sleep? ‘Doing something in which we cannot express ourselves, deepens ourselves before death.’

Charteris’ writing is really rather wonderful and individual. The prose is fluid, shifting from one perspective to another in a way that’s almost dream-like. He portrays a man with a tenuous grip on reality who seems unable to take any kind of decisive action at all. I presume that the paralysis he reflects here is meant to be symptomatic of a decaying aristocracy, and certainly the less aristocratic members of the cast are much more capable of deeds than Grant – particularly the devious and malevolent Bright, whose influence runs through the book like a constant and nasty thread, and who turns up most alarmingly when least expected with a very unpleasant smile on his face!

charteris

I enjoyed my first experience of reading Hugo Charteris very much; his individual style of prose, his rather dreamy and troubled characters and the wonderful way he had of conjuring up atmosphere made this a compelling book. So well done to Michael Walmer for re-issuing the title, and I’ll look forward to exploring more of Charteris’ work in future.

So. I popped into the library yesterday to collect a book…

22 Comments

This one in fact:

carey

I’ve enjoying reading and listening to John Carey’s thoughts for a while and I dealt with the book itch by reserving it from the library. Trouble is, it came in a couple of weeks ago and I forgot about it… Luckily (or unluckily) Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book mentioned it as he’d got a copy for Christmas and this reminded me and so I went to pick it up – which was a mistake, as it turned out, because the library sale section (old and unwanted books) had been revamped and I also came out with these:

library

I think I can hardly be blamed, though! The Orwell is a hardback of some uncollected pieces which will match my boxed hardback complete works thingy. The Persephone (a Persephone!) is the same collection of Dorothy Whipple short stories that captivated my friend J. in the Bloomsbury Oxfam. And the third book is a selection of Julian Maclaren-Ross’s letters (why does my library want to get rid of his books??) All for £3.40….. Not that I need any books after Christmas…

And then there was this in the Oxfam:

leeI read “Cider with Rosie” at school when we studied it in my Grammar School days. I loved it on first reading and hated it after we’d analysed it to death. But I’m intrigued by his Spanish Civil War days and so I figured maybe I should revisit and see what I make of it all those years late…. And £1.99 is not a bad price.

However, I got home to find a lovely review book from Michael Walmer:

charteris

And there is the Willa Cather from Heaven-Ali’s lovely giveaway:

my antonia

Well, I can’t deny that Mount TBR is out of control – it’s the floorboards I fear for most at the moment….. :s

%d bloggers like this: