His Coldest Winter by Derek Beaven - review by Sam Leith

Sam Leith

The Appalling Snow

His Coldest Winter


Fourth Estate 265pp £15.99 order from our bookshop

‘Into many a green valley’, Auden wrote, ‘Drifts the appalling snow…’ In 1962 the hardest winter for two centuries hit the English countryside, and the appalling snow drifts into the lives of Derek Beaven's two protagonists. One is Alan Rae, whom we meet as he rides his new motorcycle home from London through the countryside, exhilarated and afraid. The other is Geoffrey Fairhurst, a young researcher who works with Alan's father, Lionel (a wartime rocket scientist), at a laboratory where they are trying, essentially, to invent the microchip. Both know, but don't quite allow themselves to know, that the business the laboratory is in is, one way or another, military.

Two things happen in quite close succession. Alan meets a girl – Cynthia, a sexy, mysterious, mascara-wearing representative of the eternal feminine who also happens to work at the laboratory as a typist. And Lionel Rae disappears, apparently ‘on business’.

Derek Beaven's fourth novel is an oblique, suggestive, estranging book that

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