Magazine article The Spectator

A Powerful Revenant

Magazine article The Spectator

A Powerful Revenant

Article excerpt

A powerful revenant

Anita Brookner

YOUR BLUE-EYED BOY

by Helen Dunmore

Viking, 12.99, pp. 252

Simone, aged 38, is a district judge in a small town in a marshy region of England. The region is unspecified - Essex? although the marsh plays a considerable part in the story and turns out to be one of a number of misleading clues. Simone's husband, Donald, is weak, ineffectual and melancholic; it comes as no surprise to learn that he has been declared bankrupt. There are two small boys. Simone is not only responsible for clearing the household's debts; in her professional capacity she must rule on her clients' misfortunes and misdemeanours. But Simone was not always so burdened. Twenty years previously she was an escapee, translated to another coastal town, in America, enjoying a summer of love with unreliable Michael and his even more unreliable friend Calvin. Calvin likes to take photographs of naked bodies in various conjunctions. This is somehow permitted, as is Michael's connivance, since the war in Vietnam has left traces in their behaviour which Simone does not understand. How could she? She has only seen it on television, along with the first moon launch and the first antiapartheid march. In any event the summer was too good to waste, in strict contrast to the cold winds and domestic discomfort she is obliged to endure in the disheartening present.

One morning a letter arrives from New York, eerily familiar in tone. Photographs are promised. Blackmail is instantly perceived. Yet the twist in this clever novel is that nothing goes according to the initial idea, which has less to do with blackmail than with stalking. Stalking is far more of a threat than blackmail; blackmailers ask for money, while stalkers are fuelled by more primitive and even unreachable emotions.

What promises to be a thriller - and it is certainly that - turns out to be a love story or perhaps the ghost of a love story. For in comparison with present discontents that summer of love proves to cast a long shadow, perhaps too long for Michael and for Simone herself, overshadowed as it may have been by both Michael's and Calvin's aberrations. The memory of that youth, a time before judgments were made, is in fact all that these two people possess.

Calvin, Simone learns, is dead. …

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