Vol. 12 No. 13 · 12 July 1990
I am always delighted to find a poem or article on your pages by C.H. Sisson (LRB, 10 May), but why not tell those of your readers who still might be dummies that Sisson is the author of one of the great unappreciated books of the 20th century, Christopher Homm? Only mildly fanfared, Christopher Homm is not a mild book but, in purest classical English, a savage and loving account of working-class life told backwards from death to the moment of Christopher’s birth when, ‘crouched in his blindness’, he is about to set out on the road to Torrington Street (where he dies in the opening sentence of the book), ‘and if he had known how bitter the journey was to be he would not have come’. In spite of all that, this is a very funny book; some keep it under their pillows at night, others toss it out closed windows.
The arrival of this – and I usually use the word very advisedly – masterpiece in my own life was properly apocalyptic. I was standing in a small but respectable public library in upstate New York searching the S’s for a mystery I had not read when this small stiff-covered paperback done up in red and yellow suddenly fell to my feet and, as I stooped to pick it up, lo, angels began to sing, and so I opened and began to read: ‘He was a pattern of amiability when he fell flat onto the gravel.’ Let fan clubs spring up from Mogadishu to Stockholm.