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"
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 schemeto 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.