Kay Demarest’s War

Penelope Fitzgerald

  • The Other Garden by Francis Wyndham
    Cape, 106 pp, £9.95, September 1987, ISBN 0 224 02475 2
  • The Engine of Owl-Light by Sebastian Barry
    Carcanet, 390 pp, £10.95, July 1987, ISBN 0 85635 704 9
  • A Singular Attraction by Ita Daly
    Cape, 144 pp, £10.95, August 1987, ISBN 0 224 02438 8
  • Cold Spring Harbor by Richard Yates
    Methuen, 182 pp, £10.95, July 1987, ISBN 0 413 14420 8
  • The Changeling by Catharine Arnold
    Hodder, 223 pp, £9.95, July 1987, ISBN 0 340 40542 2

In The Other Garden Francis Wyndham manages a classic form, the first-person novella, with great delicacy and originality. His first person, as in his collection of short stories Mrs Henderson, is a gentle, helpful, observant boy growing up during the Second World War, a boy who is eventually bewildered by what human beings do to each other. He seems reluctant to define himself and Wyndham never gives him a name. At the beginning of his story ‘Obsessions’ he quotes Valéry’s Monsieur Teste: C’est ce que j’ai d’inhabile, d’incertain, qui est bien moi-même. But this boy is also a historian. Around him, or just out of his reach, there are glittering and mysterious figures, his elders and their friends and relations, and beyond them a region of myth, the partygoers of the Twenties, the film stars of the Thirties. He has something in common with Leo in L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, but without the strain and the treacherous anxiety to please the great ones which bring Leo to ruin. What he offers, as a historian, is not curiosity but sympathy, and what he is looking for turns out to be an innocence which, even in the most unlikely places, can be recognised as something like his own.

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