A KIND OF PRIVATE MAGIC by Patrick Belshaw


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 Finding his uncle, one of E.M. Forster's lower-class lovers, and other friends of the family relegated to footnotes in one of the novelist's biographies, Belshaw was driven to write this overextended, semifictionalized memoir of that circle of friends and lovers. To counteract what he feels is reticence on this score by Forster biographers, Belshaw presents a half-documented, half-guessed account of the intimate life of his four ``uncles'': the maternal Charles, his real uncle; Jack Sprott (a professor of sociology known around Bloomsbury as Sebastian); working-class Ted Shread; and Morgan Forster. Sprott became friends with Forster at Cambridge, remaining a lifelong confidant (and finally Forster's literary executor), and met Charles Lovett (and later his boyfriend Ted) in Nottingham while there as a lecturer; Sprott introduced Charles to Forster, who took up with himthus connecting everyone to the young Belshaw. Unfortunately for Forster and this small, enduring network of what he once called his ``beloved and uneminent friends,'' Belshaw chooses to present his material in the form of first-person monologues by his four ``uncles,'' interspersed with his own memories and an account of writing this book. The uncles' sections are unconvincing performances of literary ventriloquism interladen with scrapbook helpings of letters, diary entries, and speculative reminiscences. Belshaw's own tediously self-involved narrative of his initial discovery about his uncle Charles's true part in Forster's life, his archival research, and feuding with Forster biographers counterbalances an unbearably coy series of fantasy dialogues between his characters in the afterlife in which they gossip, bicker, and debate ad nauseam such issues as class distinctions and the treatment of homosexuals in England. Belshaw's pretentious and pedantic account never transcends posthumous gossip about some nobodies who knew a somebody. (4 pages of b&w photos & illustrations)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-233-98874-2
Page count: 239pp
Publisher: Andre Deutsch/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1995