Julian Whyte leads a quiet, emotionally shut down life as a barrister, bachelor, and district coroner in the small village of Mansfield in the south of England. His only close relative is his older brother Raymond, who for the past several years has led the life of an expatriate Communist intellectual in East Germany. But it is 1991. The Berlin Wall is down and Raymond Why...more
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This is one of those books that you find mouldering on the shelves of second hand bookstores at the quiet end of town, or turning slowly yellow in the private library of a big old house. Seemingly published in a parallel universe because they're unlikely to turn up in WHSmith, not being quite commercial enough. I quite like books like this, though, they deal with unusual subjects and are not afraid to feature ordinary people with rather boring habits. The narrator of this one describes himself a...more
Jan 18, 2014 Leslie rated it 3 of 5 stars · review of another edition
This starts off well, sort of a combination of a suspense thriller and a Barbara Pym novel, about an emotionally shut-down man in a country village, who works as a coroner and is preparing for the not-very-welcome return of his Communist older brother from his long exile in the East. But instead of building a sense of dread and the inevitability of things going wrong, the book veers into contrivance and finally becomes somewhat silly. Half a good book is better than none, I suppose.
I forced myself to read two thirds of the way through this before giving up. The artificiality of the plot and characters drove me nuts. I suppose there are people who converse this way, have these motivations and are prone to taking slips of paper with quotes scribbled on them to make a point to one's brother at the site of one's mother's grave, but these are not people about which I wish to read. Maybe I should have gone with McCrum's biography of Wodehouse....
Robert McCrum is an associate editor of the Observer. He was born and educated in Cambridge. For nearly 20 years he was editor-in-chief of the publishers Faber & Faber. He is the co-author of The Story of English (1986), and has written six novels. He was the literary editor of the Observer from 1996 to 2008, and has been a regular contributor to the Guardian since 1990More about Robert McCrum...