A new angle on an old subject from West (The Women of Whitechapel and Jack the Ripper, 1991, etc.), who here makes the...



A new angle on an old subject from West (The Women of Whitechapel and Jack the Ripper, 1991, etc.), who here makes the familiar horrors of WW I the heart of a son's story of beloved parents. Clive, now in his early 50s, is engaged not merely in an exercise of filial piety but also in an attempt to understand--by remembering, reconstructing, and imagining--just what it must have been like to be Hilly and Harry. Harry, the son of a coal miner, met Hilly, four years older and known to be musical, at a bell-ringing recital in their English Midlands town. Soon a regular visitor at the Fitzalans--a notch up the social ladder, thanks to Hilly's prosperous butcher father--Harry would listen to Hilly, an accomplished pianist, practice and then return to his own loving but poor family. But Harry, sensitive and ambitious, received two blows that irrevocably changed his life: his family's inability to pay for high school, and his wartime experiences. Horrified by the carnage and the snobbery of the officers, he became a detached killing machine himself, maintaining his sanity only by listening to records. Then, blinded by a shell, he was nursed by a quirky angel of mercy who sexually initiated him, which later made marriage to the virginal and mystical Hilly a disappointment, at least sexually. He regained sight in one eye, but it was the ""Promethean-Victorian"" Hilly who really supported the family by teaching music. Harry obsessively relived the war but was a spent force, his only consolations gambling and music. Clive eventually understands that ""his parents had come into the world to use life a lot, in spite of vicissitudes and injuries, until they had had enough, and cried bravely aloud for a full stop."" An affecting and pleasingly unsentimental tribute, though the story is often bogged down in repetitive detail and by West's need to flash his haute-literary credentials. A pity, too, because much here is very good.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992


Page Count: 448

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1992