Clapham’s (Odd Socks, 2013) novel chronicles the very different paths of two young schoolboys growing up in 1950s England.
John Haworth and Martin Holford are two unlikely friends who forge a bond at their primary school in Porterfield, “an industrial city halfway up England.” John is a quiet, gifted musician, while Martin is an unbelievably bright, witty young man with pluck. The novel traces their lives from their first primary school years to grammar school, university, and beyond. John stumbles into a successful music career by meeting Daphne Lagrange, a celebrated pianist who, through various connections, is able to get him gigs as a music critic, amanuensis, and accompanist. Martin takes a more public route on his path to adulthood, enjoying stints as a performative clergyman and “faith healer” and a recruiter for the local Northern Coal Board Symphony Orchestra. Throughout the novel, Clapham ties in the stories of other colorful figures in John’s and Martin’s lives. He adds complexity with people such as Katherine Clements, an ailing music star whom John accompanies on tour; Tamas Mihaly, a Hungarian conductor whom Martin recruits for the orchestra; and Wesley Johnson, an up-and-coming composer from the West Indies whom John encounters in Oxford. Ultimately, although the overall plot of this deliberately paced novel isn’t very compelling, Clapham’s portrait of a friendship between the two unlikely protagonists, which lasts through decades and various stages of life, is heartwarming and uplifting. Also, through various characters’ tales, the author makes a poignant statement about the subjectivity of success: even if one isn’t in the limelight, one may still make a considerable impact in the arts—and on the world.
A slow-paced but often charming and enjoyable book about music, friendship, and defining success on one’s own terms.