A Watch in the Night

A Watch in the Night

by A. N. Wilson
     
 

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An aging man is watching Shakespeare on television in the setting of a modest suburban house. Do not be deceived into thinking that this is the beginning of something boring or familiar. 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… See more details below

Overview

An aging man is watching Shakespeare on television in the setting of a modest suburban house. Do not be deceived into thinking that this is the beginning of something boring or familiar. 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. A. N. Wilson has constructed a masterful novel of manners out of the most whimsical and unlikely elements: murder, the ghost of Shakespeare, and the ironies and confusions of sex. 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 this tour de force leads the reader with consummate skill towards a wholly unexpected conclusion.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
What is the true story of James "Jimbo" Petworth Lampitt's death? Was Raphael Hunter implicated in his mysterious fall? And what about Virgil D. Everett, whose demise was similar to Jimbo's? Readers of Wilson's four previous novels about the Lampitt family as recalled by narrator Julian Ramsay (the most recent was Hearing Voices) will enjoy this concluding volume in the Lampitt Chronicles. Wilson's audience knows, however, that the author's sinuous, digressive path to these final revelations is as rewarding as the details of the plot. Here, again, Julian ruminates on some recurring topics: the nature of the creative process, the preeminence of Shakespeare in the pantheon of writers, the role of Christian theology in daily life, the prevalence of homosexuality among the British upper class, the aristocracy's support of conservative (here fascist) political activities. Wilson reserves his greatest scorn for Raphael Hunter. A talentless writer and opportunist who has achieved success, wealth and celebrity ("this Booker Judge, this presenter of `Perspectives' on the telly'') on the strength of his bogus biography of Jimbo, Hunter finally confesses his part in the "accident'' that took Jimbo's life. Amply foreshadowed in the previous books, the disclosure comes not as a surprise but as a rich culmination of Wilson's masterful portrait of a generation in its heyday and decline. Presented with ironic humor and dense with engaging ideas and indelible characters, the series and this final book are well worth a reader's time and attention. (Oct.)
Library Journal - Library Journal
Whatever happened to elegant Edwardian writer James Petworth Lampitt, chronicled so lovingly in four previous Lampitt volumes (e.g., Hearing Voices, Norton 1996)? Readers who have been wondering whether his death was accidental or deliberate will find a satisfying, if unsurprising, answer in this solid conclusion to the series. Of course, no one reads the series to find the solution to a little mystery but to breathe in Wilson's elegant, masterful writing, which recalls the bygone era he is evoking on the page. As our hapless hero, washed-up actor Julian Ramsay, watches Shakespeare on the telly, he recalls his vibrant affair with the black actress playing Margaret of Anjou and the night when he discovered the secret of Lampitt's death. Along the way, we meet Julian's companion, Victoria, going blind despite his ministrations; her nephew, Kit, himself writing a book that concerns Lampitt; and a whole richly evoked community of British literati. Throughout, as Julian apostrophizes Shakespeare, we are treated to bits of the Bard's poetry. A palpable sense of loss hangs over this well-wrought work, which can be read without benefit of the preceding volumes. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/96.]Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Merly Rubin
"Brilliant, funny, thoughtful...(The Lampit Chronicles) will entertain, edify and touch many readers for years to come." -- The Washington Times
Kirkus Reviews
The last volume in Wilson's quintet, known collectively as the Lampitt Chronicles (Hearing Voices, 1996, etc.), not only answers the big mystery that dogged all the earlier books, but it fully lives up to his grand scheme—to be a "petit-bourgeois, English, late twentieth-century recovery of Lost Time." Which is to say, it's Proustian without the pretensions: No heavily suppressed desire, no social-climbing on a grand scale.

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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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393040425
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
11/01/1996
Series:
The Lampitt Chronicles, #5
Edition description:
First American Edition
Pages:
217
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.53(h) x 0.92(d)

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