Moved beyond words, I finished this novel in tears, hands shaking. And this is the second time I have read it. It goes alongside “Under Milk Wood” and “Birdsong” as the only three fictional works of genius which I know of written in the English language during my life of 80 odd years.

         Like any work of genius there is no knowing or understanding how it came to be – for that is surely the definition of  ‘genius’ – it is something incomprehensible which touches us from beyond. But the author tells us this  in his Front-piece note:

         “When I was 34 and had been iller than I knew for two long years, my recovery began in the strangest and most magical of ways. I woke one day from dreaming and saw myself when very young, as clearly as in a black and white Kodak photograph. I saw how desperately the little boy I once was had needed to talk to someone in a world where no one wanted to listen. I decided there and then to travel back in time and let myself as an adult  listen to the child. This book and my final healing is the result of that listening over very many years.”

         Abandoned by a father he briefly knew and brought up by a mad sadistic mother, Jimmy manages to find some comfort and solace from others in the small seaside town in which he grew up on the Kent coast (Deal): Mr and Mrs Bubbles; Granny (unforgettable); Mr Boys who taught him to read – and gave him  a copy of  “The Children’s Encyclopaedia”; the ‘African Gentleman’;  and Mr Wharton the teacher who turned failures into successes by telling his new class : “You are all experts in the English Language”  and showing them that the syllabi for all of their approaching O-levels were crammed into a  few short pages . And then there was his first touching love affair with Harriet – which was tragically ended by his brutal mother. And the finale when, as a lost man of 30, he managed to re-unite Mrs Bubbles with her twin in France – who she had imagined had been killed in the war forty years earlier. And of course there is the darkest of dark villains – Captain Flax at his grammar school.

         We all need to feel , don’t we, that when we grow up we can  be happy and lead graceful lives – and if our parental role models do neither we must look elsewhere. In hunter-gatherer groups children are brought up by the group as a whole and often identify with mentors other than their biological parents [because the biological connection isn’t realised . See “Reindeer Moon” by Elisabeth Marshall Thompson for such a childhood ].

         Thank you so much William Horwood for a work of art that will endure for centuries!

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