Thursday, 11 April 2013

Sussex Forests and Skeletons in Cupboards

Dipping into my Dad’s library, I was surprised to find a book “Closing Ranks” by Dirk Bogarde. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. The man was a film star during my Pa’s formative years and they’d both seen action during the Second World War. My immediate reaction was that it would be celeb eye-wash. Intriguingly though the dust jacket told me Bogarde had three honorary literary doctorates including one from France. Perhaps he could write as well as look glamorous on the big screen.

I started to read a tale set in the familiar and fine Sussex countryside. The story caught me up. It centres around a gentrified family with skeletons in their cupboards who gather to see off a dying nanny. There is reference to some under-reported messy British history: when Cossacks were forcibly repatriated into Russia at the end of the war.

Yet there were lovely descriptions of rural England...

“A dragonfly looped around her head, dipped low, soared up, a whispering crackle of papery wings..”


“every shadow of a thought or doubt.. crossed his face with the clarity of cloud shadows racing across the fields..”


“A moorhen hurried though the rushes on the stream bank and launched itself into the water, flicking its tail with fussy anxiety.”


“The first crack of true dawn split the greyness, and as the sun rose above the brim of the silent earth, the first birds started, calling and scolding, the light grew stronger, drenching the still-damp fields. A golden haze grew in brilliance.... the valley was all at once glowing with sunlight, rang to the sound of the birds in copse and wood.”

Describing the dog as draggled made me smile and reminded me of all those words we use without thinking - like dishevelled - that we wouldn't normally shorten to their original root. The book was a thoroughly enjoyable, well-crafted, skilfully observed read, made all the more fun for me for being sited in beautiful Sussex woodlands.

Is it my perception or is there a dearth of novels set in southern England??

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