Virginia Barton

Rare and welcome winter guest

 

Catholic Herald, 28 June 1991

 

Review: The Last Enchantments by Robert Liddell (Peter Owen, £13.95)

 

1948-001-pho-younger-society-800xThis novel is as sombre as a late November afternoon, the shafts of humour as rare and as welcome as winter sunshine.

The book is set in “Christminster”, Oxford thinly disguised. It was actually written in 1948, and the post-war gloom of that epoch mingles with the pre-war anxieties in the story.

The erudite author introduces irritating little snobbisms that grate uncomfortably on the modern ear. In a churchy-university perspective, two pacifist Catholic brothers potter about among their neighbours, an unlovable bunch.

One brother is musical, the other bookish. For chaps in their twenties, with intellectual pretensions, it is surprising to find these two so riveted by the goings-on next door. One neighbour, the freakish Mrs Foyle, is the mother of a famous actress, a horrid girl, and it is around their relationship that the plot moves.

Mrs Foyle is the only character in the book to tug, albeit feebly, at the reader’s sympathy.

This is a very mannered book, written with careful style. It is bound to be compared with the work of Barbara Pym, but where she is gently acerbic, Liddell is sour. Where she finds real love, Liddell finds dessicated, spent emotion.

Patrick White is quoted on the jacket: Liddell is “one of those novelists who sits quietly writing classics over a lifetime”. I hate to disagree with the ghost of one of my favorite novelists.

 

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