A Watch in the Nightby A. N. Wilson
An aging man is watching Shakespeare on television in the setting of a modest suburban house. Do not be deceived by the simplicity of such an image. For the man is Julian Ramsay, biographer of the literary Lampitt dynasty, and the famous black actress playing Margaret of Anjou was once, perhaps, the love of his life. Julian's mind wanders to a night that began with making love to the young and gorgeous Dodie and ended in the small hours of the morning outside the flat where James Petworth Lampitt lived and died. This is the story of that one evening, in the course of which Julian journeys from London's high society to its low life, meets many characters from his past, revisits memories, and, at last, unravels the mysteries of the two violent deaths that dominate the Lampitt Chronicles. From the joys of acting to the pangs of unrequited love, from a reunion of aging Fascists in London to a wintry romantic interlude in Venice, the plot of A. N. Wilson's tour de force leads the reader with consummate skill towards a wholly unexpected conclusion.
Wilson manages nevertheless to tell a truly representative tale of an Englishman in his time, which spans most of our century. Julian Ramsay has achieved some small fame for his long-running role in a popular radio drama. Through his many romantic pursuits, and two failed marriages, Julian has remained obsessed with the slippery Raphael Hunter, who beat him to the punch with a biography of the late James Lampitt, an Edwardian writer whose life touched all the greats, from Henry James to Oscar Wilde. Convinced that Hunter lied about Lampitt's alleged homosexuality and promiscuity, Julian clings to a hope that he can one day revive Lampitt's reputation. In his 60s, Julian surprises himself in a number of ways, from his passionate affair with the young and sexy Dodie Rich, the black star of a TV show, to his discovery of the truth about Hunter, his amiable nemesis. That happens when Kit Mayfield, a handsome young Lampitt descendant, manages with Julian's help to compel Hunter to reveal his dark secrets. Yes, of course, he killed old Lampitt, as Julian has long suspected, but it was only after the distinguished gent turned down the young Hunter's advance, and threatened to reveal his transgression in the darker days of the '50s. Julian's sidebar commentary on Anglicanism, the decline of literary culture, and the social nuances of language no doubt reflect Wilson's measured views, and they make for sparkling prose.
The insights of a lifetime enrich this marvelous work, full of rewards for loyal readers and delights for new ones.
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