A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I’m writing a book, an academic study of three authors, and in the past 10 days or so I have ‘read’ 23 novels by two of those authors. This marathon was driven by a publisher’s deadline in October, and an aeroplane flight in 10 hours’ time as of this writing. I simply had to get the reading done, and the critical quotes and things to write about transferred from the pages festooned in sticky notes into the different chapters of my manuscript. If I didn’t do it by this deadline, I’d never have the stuff organised and ready to plunge into and write up once I got home. Happily, I did it with a day to spare, which was a surprise, but the last two novels made it easy. One was irrelevant for the things I was looking for, and the other was simply a joy to read. So this Vulpes Random is a thank-offering to the gods of speed-reading and the nymphs of note-taking by subliminal understanding, and a fulsome recommendation for Dornford Yates’s second-last novel, Wife Apparent.
If you’ve never read Dornford Yates, I think you might give him a try. He is not to everyone’s taste. If you can’t swallow outrageous and extravagantly purple prose, or tolerate personal politics a little to the right of the Rightest Right politics Britain has had since the First World War, or put up with ideas about how women should behave that are absolutely Victorian, then maybe you shouldn’t bother. But if you can take all that, and enjoy rip-roaring thrillers that pretty much define ‘unputdownable’, I suggest you begin with Blind Corner (1927) or She Fell Among Thieves (1935). If you like rollicking light society comedies in which the main protagonist rejoices in invective that Juvenal would have admired, have a go at Adèle and Co (1931) or And Berry Came Too (1936).
Wife Apparent is not like these. It is an Arcadian romance without any of the overblown winsomeness that makes Yates’s Ruritanian fairytale The Stolen March (1926) too glutinous to read. It lacks the taut and nail-biting qualities that make some of Yates’s social dramas like This Publican (1938) unbearable acts of torture by the slow, deliberate, breaking of social codes. Wife Apparent is the story of an author suffering from memory loss brought on by severe wounds in the Second World War, and how he meets the woman of his dreams, and how his damaged brain gets well again. There’s no agony, there’s no anger (1950 Yates novels are rather full of anger): there is just great writing, lovely romantic storytelling, and splendid characterisation. Yates’s writing strengths – dialogue, implied action, effortless persuasion – are all here, displayed at full power. It shows extraordinary powers of resilience that, after his grumpy mid-1950s novels and furious memoirs, he should have stepped so easily and lightly away from the dark, and back into the lightness of entertainment again, right at the end of his career. He was a master storyteller.
Dornford Yates, Wife Apparent (1956), is probably only available second-hand or in the very best kind of public library.
The Dornford Yates listserv (the online presence of Le Cercle Anglais de Dornford Yates) operates here.
Kate really needs to go on holiday, so you can listen to her podcasts about books that she really likes on http://www.reallylikethisbook.com.