Buried past, family secrets

2011-05-18 00:00

WHEN we first meet Arthur Bailey, the central character of Craig Higginson’s accomplished novel, he seems a melancholy, curiously innocent man. Once a moderately well-known landscape painter and war artist of the Anglo-Boer war, he is now — the opening of the novel is set in 1945 in impoverished, post-war London — an elderly recluse. When he falls for the pretty girl who moves into the bedsit next door, it initially seems harmless, even charming.

Arthur has buried his past, becoming in the process a husk of a man, but the arrival of the beautiful Felicity awakens old feelings. Things spiral out of control, and Arthur, appearing to the reader as creepier and more unpleasant by the moment, seems to be heading for disaster. Higginson has created a character who fascinates and repels by turns, but who, through the juxtaposed narratives, never entirely forfeits our sympathy. We can see how he got to where he is.

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