Fic­tion Bird­cage Walk

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Helen Dun­more (Hutchin­son, £16.99)

This BOOK’S ar­rival is per­fectly timed: it’s set in an Eng­land that is anx­iously watch­ing po­lit­i­cal up­heaval in France. it’s the ter­ri­fy­ing blood­shed of the French Rev­o­lu­tion—news of an ef­fi­cient ma­chine called a guil­lo­tine is mak­ing peo­ple stroke their necks ner­vously—rather than an elec­tion, but then, just as now, tur­bu­lent events are in­ter­preted ac­cord­ing to po­lit­i­cal view­point.

Lizzie Tre­de­vant is caught be­tween two ideologies. her mother and step­fa­ther are fa­mous rad­i­cals who de­sire the abo­li­tion of hered­i­tary priv­i­lege and, although not ex­actly ap­plaud­ing the vi­o­lence in France, they are cer­tainly be­hind the up­ris­ing; her hus­band, Diner Tre­de­vant, is a self-made builder whose grand plans for a cres­cent of houses over­look­ing the gorge in Bris­tol will be jeop­ar­dised by eco­nomic un­cer­tainty.

Lizzie is no more in­ter­ested in ma­te­rial goods than her par­ents, but she’s in thrall to Diner, who is un­con­fi­dent and jeal­ous and eva­sive about his first wife Lu­cie’s death. Their re­la­tion­ship is pas­sion­ate, but not com­fort­ably so and, as Louis XVI is ex­e­cuted and Diner’s debtors close in, it dark­ens fright­en­ingly.

helen Dun­more has the el­e­gant abil­ity to con­jure an en­tire char­ac­ter from a sen­tence—‘his fine fair skin where the flush came and went as if all his feel­ings were turned into colour’— and to build ter­ror sub­tly: ‘he would not let his mind loose, for fear of where it might skedad­dle with­out him.’ The de­scrip­tion of a soft-grey silk dress gives you Lu­cie in one para­graph.

her bril­liant last book, Ex­po­sure, the first of hers i’d read, set me chas­ing her back­list; this is not quite as good—it’s too long, gets bogged down in Lizzie’s grief for her mother and has a point­less first chap­ter—but the breath­tak­ingly at­mo­spheric writ­ing ab­sorbs. Kate Green

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