Novel builds slowly be­fore bomb goes off

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT -

ness, a new and un­ex­pected tal­ent for the un­pre­dictable,” and he gets caught up in the heady tur­bu­lence of an af­fair with a pros­ti­tute he sus­pects is Jewish.

Eve­lyn, mean­while, be­gins to shed her up­stand­ing rep­u­ta­tion as a stoic English wife. She steals away to pub­lic lec­tures by Vir­ginia Woolf and ad­mires clan­des­tine art­work cre­ated by one of her hus­band’s labour-camp de­tainees, Otto.

She is at­tracted to Otto’s dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent world view. A Jewish-Ger­man “de­gen­er­ate” (as stamped on his pass­port), he has been hewn from rougher stuff than her own old-money, fin­ish­ing-school up­bring­ing af­forded her.

Mean­while, the Beau­monts’ eight-yearold son, Philip, is a fear­ful and pre­co­cious boy who gets him­self into one danger­ous sit­u­a­tion af­ter an­other, usu­ally at his friend’s goad­ing. Sus­pense is at its high­est in many of the scenes in­volv­ing Philip, as he seems likely to be the cause of the fam­ily’s ul­ti­mate and in­evitable un­do­ing.

But the road to their demise is a long one, with many scenic de­tours along the way. Ma­cLeod eases her­self and her read­ers into the story grad­u­ally. Ma­cLeod’s prose is as lovely as the moths she de- scribes flut­ter­ing over the “small, del­i­cate tri­umphs” of night flow­ers.

Ma­cLeod even cap­tures beauty in the majesty and power of two sim­ple green pills: cyanide, “a foul trea­sure,” that hangs omi­nously over the Beau­monts’ heads like a time bomb that has yet to ex­plode.

Read­ers re­ceive a glim­mer of ex­pla­na­tion for the novel’s ti­tle within the first pages. The ten­sion is al­ready pal­pa­ble by the mid­dle of Chap­ter 1, and it doesn’t let go of its suf­fo­cat­ing grip un­til the ex­plo­sive cli­max.

Ma­cLeod’s de­scrip­tions of de­struc­tion — “a mor­bid, con­fused car­ni­val” — are riv­et­ing, not over­done. Her ex­plo­ration of a home blown to smithereens is vivid but cool. It’s this de­tach­ment that some­how makes the dev­as­ta­tion all the more fright­en­ing.

Ma­cLeod deftly re­turns to the des­o­la­tion of the Beau­monts’ un­happy mar­riage to show that des­per­a­tion and de­spair are her do­mains and, whether in wartime Brighton or be­hind the closed doors of an up­scale English fam­ily’s home, she’s in charge.

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