Magazine article The Spectator

Happy Band of Brothers

Magazine article The Spectator

Happy Band of Brothers

Article excerpt

Happy band of brothers Angela Huth THE TWO POUND TRAM by William Newton Bloomsbury, L12.99, pp. 192, ISBN 0747566976

Very occasionally one comes across a book which, in its unexpected delights, inspires one to leap about wild with praise, and rush out to buy copies for friends. This first work by William Newton, retired doctor, will surely have this effect on many readers.

It is, simply, the story of remarkable teenage years in the late 1930s. The facts make fiction look uninventive. They are described in what might be called polished prose - but that implies a lot of buffing and shining. Dr Newton's art, as a storyteller and a master of description, is to make the reader feel it has all poured out of him just as it appears on the page. There's no sense of conscious working over of narrative or humour. Dr Newton is a natural writer of a very high order indeed.

The story concerns two brothers, Duncan and Wilfred. (The author, I assumed, was Wilfred.) They had a bizarre and bleak Sussex childhood: a cold and distant father, a flighty mother never once condemned for her waywardness. The boys only met their parents on Wednesdays, for 'arrangements'. But, devoid of self-pity, they were not without their resources. Duncan, an ace catapultist, killed rabbits which they cooked in their secret place, an old railway carriage, and they had gathered a remarkable collection of butterflies. It was through the pursuit of butterflies they came into contact with an eccentric German millionaire neighbour, whose footmen had powdered wigs and velvet breeches, and who was to be of great help to them once they had decided to leave home. …

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