The “Darling” Days

2:01 PM 7 APRIL 2019

This proved a curious novella, from a writer unfamiliar to me, with echoes of those black and white Ealing Studio movies, where the British cast spoke in plummy tones and the criminal classes were still referred to as ‘rascals’ and ‘scoundrels’. Less surprising when the reader realises that Henry Cecil is the pseudonym of Judge Henry Cecil Leon (born 1902), yet the humour coursing through this charming tale does make it satisfying, albeit in a rather nostalgic way.


Cambridge-educated, Cecil was called to the bar in 1923 and post-World War II was appointed a County Court Judge in 1949. Still, it is unusual that such a pillar of the establishment should expose some of the potential absurdities of the law and how it might play out within the vagaries of ordinary lives.


In this example, the reader is introduced to Mrs Harriet Hunt, who was successfully married to her husband (Graham) for twenty years, when without warning, he disappeared. That was seven years ago. Having experienced the predictable gamut of emotions, Harriet might have reasonably assumed Graham was dead, when he did not return home or make contact. However, the arrival of a mysterious cheque for £100 every month since, from a firm of solicitors, lent probability to her husband’s survival and increased the likelihood that he had in fact run off with another woman. Harriet continued to be perplexed by such a scenario, when she felt certain they had been happily married, but she was also hurt by the possibility that Graham might have ‘pensioned her off’ in this way. Still, in the light of the prevailing evidence she reluctantly accepts the need to settle the future and having been pursued assiduously by the couple’s former friend, the gentle George, seeks to petition the court for a divorce.


Stage set and having sealed the legal argument with an agreement to go to bed with George later that evening to consummate their relationship (to be followed by supper), Harriet returns home to find Graham has also returned, just as suddenly as he departed.


In his mild and comical approach to this story, Cecil almost imperceptibly weighs complex issues, such as the disparity between the moral and legal status of marriage, the expectations of men, women and society and the meaning of ‘love’. For the contemporary reader it might appear dated and yet I suspect, if one cares to settle down with a ‘whisky and a splash’, this is a funny, short, but welcome glimpse of a mythically  halcyon era.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

When the Honeymoon is Over…

7:37 PM 16 JUNE 2017

I have been an admirer of Ian McEwan’s writing style since my introduction to ‘Atonement’ (see earlier review) and when The Times listed him among “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”, I can plainly see why. By comparison, I was less enamoured by ‘Solar’ (also previously reviewed), but my latest dip into the McEwan listings, the novella, ‘On Chesil Beach’, is in many ways a quite remarkable piece of writing. 

Firstly, the book, comprising just 166 pages, split into five parts, is exquisitely crafted. The author’s use of language is concise, but sumptuous and though short, the book packs a complex emotional punch, which the reader shares with newly weds Edward and Florence. From undiluted joy to excruciating despair, the couple’s developing insights are naive and poignant in equal measure and McEwan tackles head-on the nature of intimacy and passion as they nudge towards the consummation of their marriage.

For the bulk of the book, the author succeeds in slowing time, launching back from the wedding day in successive reflections that map the couple’s respective journeys. Each from very different backgrounds, Edward and Florence have managed to rise above the shortcomings of their parentage and by some quirk of serendipity, to find each other, which is of itself heart-warming. Yet, the book exposes potential flaws in the superficial 1960’s courtship ritual and the brittle, untested facade, which they have contrived to create. There is little doubt that they love one another, but is it enough and can they fashion a workable compromise, on which to build a life together?

Perhaps some matches are made in heaven, but to succeed they have to be made to work at the human level. In this frank and at times crude exploration of ‘need’, it seems clear that we can be a fickle bunch, and even among the well-educated, sometimes held hostage to irrational base instincts. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Bird’s eye view

8:02 PM 7 AUGUST 2016

A very thought-provoking, though short book, JLS invites the reader to contemplate the potential tyranny of collective,taken-for-granted understanding and the value of mavericks, as a necessary challenge to the prevailing order. Bach poses a question for all of us about the price of conforming, weighed against being true to oneself. A book which can be read and enjoyed on several levels.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521167302

Rating: 4 out of 5.