Magazine article The Spectator

Right Up with the Best of Them

Magazine article The Spectator

Right Up with the Best of Them

Article excerpt

Right up with the best of them

THE BOY WHO TAUGHT THE BEEKEEPER TO READ by Susan Hill Chatlo, L10.99, pp. 216 ISBN 0701175966

This collection of nine stories, less than 50,000 words in length, is light in the hand. It is, however, a work of impressive substance. Immediately before I embarked on it, I had been reading for review a novel so immense that I felt like a vet asked to give an elephant a thorough check-up. In contrast Hill can evoke a setting, convey the essence of a situation and let one see into the inmost hearts of her characters in a paragraph or even a single sentence.

She is particularly skilful in her depiction of relationships between young and old. One of the best of the stories, 'Father, Father', a novel in miniature, begins with two sisters, both working but still living at home, who become the appalled observers of the anguish of their father, a man in his seventies, by their mother's death-bed. For months after their mother's death, they cannot rouse him from the numb torpor of his grief. Then, on returning from work, they hear voices from the garden. Their father is not alone. Eventually, he marries the much younger woman to whom he has been talking, and, inexorable step by step, father and second wife not merely efface all memory of the dead woman but also drive the two daughters out of the house.

In the title story, the old-young relationship is between an adolescent boy and the family handyman whom he begins to teach to read. Within a few months, the boy has terminated the friendship with the same capricious abruptness with which he started it. …

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