William Palmer

Bleak Household

Love is Strange


Faber & Faber 496pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

The publisher of this novel praises its ‘darkly English humour’. Well, it is certainly dark enough by the end, and I suppose you could, if you tried hard enough, find the beginning quite amusing. Not quite the very beginning, though, where the dying Clifford Coyle rather fondly remembers raping a girl. If you read on for a further 350-odd pages you will discover that as a sixteen-year-old in the 1960s, and a hitherto timid, virginal and not overly bright type, Clifford takes the girl, Mary, out for the very first time on a sightseeing bus ride in London, and somehow persuades her to go away with him on a ferry to Jersey. During the voyage he bribes a uniformed steward with two pounds to conduct a mock wedding, with a bit of twisted silver paper serving for a ring. He then gets so carried away in a boarding house on Jersey that he brutally rapes Mary. She seems to have no very great objection to this, believing them to be married; she is, however, horrified to find that he is a Protestant. Now, if you can believe any of this, even of a girl like Mary, who is naïve to the point of imbecility, you will believe anything. The point about a work of fiction, you see, is that it has to appear to be true, or at least credible within some accepted notion of human conduct.

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