Rather like E M Forster, who became more and more famous with each book that he did not write, Adam Mars-Jones enjoyed the distinction of being twice nominated, in 1983 and 1993, as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists without ever having produced a single novel. When in 1993 he finally came up with The Water of Thirst, a fine if fragile work, he fortunately justified these two accolades. Now, after a fifteen-year interval, he has at last produced a successor to that book. Set in the 1950s, it is equally fine but, so far from being fragile, runs to more than five hundred remarkably robust pages.
The protagonist and narrator of the book, John Cromer, explains the puzzling title by defining his place in the human alphabet as being ‘more like a specialised piece of punctuation, a cedilla, umlaut or pilcrow’. (For those ignorant of what a pilcrow is, a typing of alt+0182 into a PC