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English Wall debuts with an ambitiously twisty intellectual adventure especially good for those smitten by—and maybe versed in—the traditions of decadence in art and poetry rooted in the end of the last century. Life isn—t so happy for Tom Lynch after his British father is lost in the 1937 burning of the Hindenburg, especially when his New Jersey mother—vain, shallow, resentful’so much prefers her new boyfriend over her son. But right after WWII, Tom finds himself sent off to prep school in England, where he’s virtually adopted by the school’s fiercely principled (and fiercely Catholic) head, Patrick Grimshaw. Grimshaw introduces Catholic Tom to the long, rancorous, often sectarian history of the Yorkshire moors—and introduces him to something more as well by giving him a copy of Paradise Lost created and illustrated by the artist Alfred Delaquay. Delaquay, a mix of Baudelaire in the depraved and Blake in the visionary, issued his illustrated works in editions of single copies as a protest, in part, against modern philistinism and lack of high principle; and now just to receive one of them—the Dante, Milton, or Blake—requires becoming a member of the secret Delaquay Society and upholding its truths forever, including the vow never ever to gain a penny from Delaquay. When Tom goes to Oxford, though, to study art, his own spiral into drink and compromise doesn—t take long—nor does his expulsion from the Society, once he breaks the code by paying cash—1,000 lbs.—for the Delaquay Baudelaire. Nothing now will keep him—not even the love of piercingly brilliant, brave, beautiful Rachel Fein, lecturer at Oxford—from falling further into depravity in London, even his becoming, in cahoots with a truly amoral and wonderfully limned gallery owner, the producer himself of dozens of fake Delaquays. What awaits tormented Tom in the end, if heavier in plot than in psychology, will displease only few. Profundities—real ones’survive felicitously and well inside an often sordid tale of mystery and high squalor.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-609-60158-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998


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