After a slow start and an initial lack of drama, this novel--cast as a family memoir--gains momentum and appeal. West ( The Women of Whitechapel ; Lord Byron's Doctor ) re-creates his parents' lives through the fictional device of their shadowy son Clive Moxon, who with guilty compulsiveness peers into the ``skewed kaleidoscope'' of the past to spy on his parents, Hereward and Hildred, aka Harry and Hilly, and imagine their secret lives. Growing up in the sleepy English village of Exington, Harry, a coal miner's son, is mystically entranced by Hilly, a gifted pianist and daughter of a well-to-do butcher. World War I, which Harry joins at 16 (Hilly is 20) is the novel's turning point. The boy soldier's combat duty, his painful blinding by shrapnel (he regains his sight in one eye), his sexual ravishing in the hospital by an exquisitely wanton nurse whom he cannot see: in Clive's creative retrospect, these prove to be the peak experiences of Harry's life. From there he descends to a humdrum, hidebound existence: a repressed marriage to the prim Hilly, the birth of their children, his nostalgic reliving of the hell of war through tales he tells to Clive. All these are handled with consummate sensitivity. West packs his hard-breathing prose with dense detail; his rich and rolling style can fatigue but at its best it invigorates. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/1992 Release date: 09/01/1992 Genre: Fiction
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