In his first work of nonfiction, Faulks, a bestselling British novelist, takes up the brief but brilliant lives of three gifted countrymen who died young: painter Christopher Wood; fighter pilot Richard Hillary; and foreign correspondent Jeremy Wolfenden, considered the brightest mind of his generation. Through these tragic tales, Faulks explores the British character as it painfully evolved during the 20th century, spurring both the acceleration and fatal plunge of these vital young men. Wood, a part of the beau monde of 1920s Paris, drew praise from the likes of Picasso and Jean Cocteau. Hillary, who heroically returned to the skies after a fiery dogfight, won renown as a writer in his early 20s. While the sections on Wood and Hillary prove interesting, they are sometimes plodding, and shot through to distraction with background information. The final section on Wolfenden, however, is gripping. Great things were expected of the Eton and Oxford standout even as he became a reckless, alcoholic correspondent in Moscow, drawn into the world of Cold War espionage. While ambition, addiction and arrogance play destructive roles in these lives, homosexuality and the British attitude toward it is a recurring theme that Faulks suggests as a contributing factor. But the complaints here are mostly minor. The writing is solid, at times poetic, and the research thorough. In the end, Faulks manages to jolt the imagination with the tantalizing agony of what-might-have-been. 8 pages of photos not seen by PW.(May 12). Forecast: The recent release of the film version of Faulks's novel Charlotte Gray and of his new novel, On Green Dolphin Street, may help build a critical mass of readers. This triptych was an acclaimed bestseller across the pond, but with its English setting, a more modest fate seems likely. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Three young men of promise; three generations of Englishmen; three men dead before their prime. Faulks, author of Birdsong and On Green Dolphin Street, uses these three short lives to paint a picture of evolving British society and its effect on its citizens. He takes as his springboard Calvin Trillin's Remembering Denny, a study of a young man of such luminance and charisma that his 1957 graduation was covered by Time magazine, yet who killed himself without fully realizing his potential. What is there, Faulks asks, about a given time and society that will stifle a given personality? How, the question is subtly asked, might that personality have fared in a different time? Like the Denny of Trillin's book, two, at least, of the three subjects studied here were unable to handle the fact of their homosexuality in the climate of their day. Christopher Wood, an aspiring and talented artist born at the turn of the century, threw himself into dizzying Parisian life of art, drugs and sex in the rarified atmosphere of the Picassos and Cocteaus, and killed himself at 29. Richard Hillary, whose even shorter life centered around his desire to be a WW II fighter pilot, was horribly burned, spent months in hospital, then by his own choice flew again and was killed in an unexplained training accident. He had time nevertheless to write an account of his flight experiences in The Last Enemy. Faulks points out how Hillary, like many of his generation, felt they had lost something by not being a part of the Great War of 1914-1918; Hillary was determined not to miss his own great war, and gave his life to participate. Brilliant, flamboyant and an "out" and practicing homosexual, Jeremy Wolfenden affected analmost mal-de-siècle world weariness with any endeavor he undertook, while carrying off any task with panache and ease. He turned aside from all he could have been at home to be a hack journalist living in a cramped flat in Moscow: Moscow, which of all possible locations was most prone to spying on a British citizen and using perceived homosexuality as a prime target for blackmail. Wolfenden cared little about his own peccadilloes being brought to light, but, in an ironic twist of fate, his father, Jack Wolfenden, was at that time crafting the Wolfenden Report, which was to affect the civil liberties of all British homosexuals. The pressure eventually cracked Jeremy's cool façade, and he spun out of control on alcohol and drugs, dying at 31. A fascinating trio of essays, accessible to the mature reader. Discussion of sexual matters. Category: Biography & Personal Narrative. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 1996, Random House, Vintage, 314p., Boatner; Writer, Minneapolis, MN
Fans of novelist Faulks's evocative depictions of wartime heroism (e.g., Charlotte Gray) will embrace his first venture into biography, a study of three brilliant yet mortally flawed men who lived on either side of the World War II era. Working in chronological order, Faulks first sketches the life of artist Christopher "Kit" Wood. Wood's ambition to become a great painter led him to Paris in the 1920s, where charm and circumstance placed him in the company of cultural giants like Picasso and Cocteau. In a profile of Royal Air Force ace Richard Hillary, Faulks ably changes gears as he describes a man who personified the casual fatalism of a spitfire pilot. Faulks finishes with Jeremy Wolfenden, a proud homosexual and dazzlingly intelligent journalist ensnared in Cold War blackmail and spy games. Of course, as the title informs us, these men are all doomed to an early death. There is nothing romantic about killing yourself with drugs, drink, or daredevilry, yet Faulks is able to captivate with his meticulous, caring treatment of these three who died on the cusp of greatness. Recommended for all public and academic libraries. Gail Benjafield, St. Catharines P.L., Ont. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Cinematically inclined English novelist Faulks (Charlotte Gray, 1999, etc.) mourns the beautiful, talented sons of Albion, doomed to early graves. The youthful accomplishments of the three men depicted here promised renown, for better or worse, but they died prematurely. Faulks doesn't have much of a thesis, apart from the belief that "young or short lives are more sensitive indicators of the pressure of public attitudes than lives lived long and crowned with honours," a nice enough point that goes unbuttressed. Still, his brief biographies are marvels of economy and good writing, reason enough to read them. His first subject, Christopher Wood (1902–30), was the toast of beau-monde Paris, a first-class painter who haunted the smart cafes and was on a first-name basis with Diaghilev and Picasso. Gifted though he was, Wood never quite got over the shock of childhood polio ("he was shamefully removed from the world of other children, and was in continual pain") and killed himself before he could fulfill his gifts. Unluckier still was Faulks's second subject, RAF pilot Richard Hillary (1919–43), handsome and confident until badly burned in a plane crash during the Battle of Britain; he survived but was severely disfigured and died three years later during a training-flight accident. Fans of John le Carré will be most drawn to the final portrait, of tortured Jeremy Wolfenden (1934–65), hailed as the most brilliant Englishman of his generation and beloved of Oxford University's female students, for whom "his acknowledged but still illegal homosexuality added to his mysterious glamour." Wolfenden ended his days playing, and being played by, spies and counterspies of the English, American, andSoviet intelligence services, all of whom found use for the easily tempted and blackmailed young man, who drank himself to death by age 31. Well-crafted and intelligent sketches of particular interest to students of nonfiction writing, who'll find a useful model here
“Compelling and stunningly written.” –The Times (London)
“Faulks is a prodigiously talented writer.” –The New York Times
“You may not have heard of the subjects of these three essays, but please do not let that hinder you. . . . [Faulks’s] spare narrative hides a commitment to his subjects which pulls you in and leaves you gasping for these lost lives.” –Mail on Sunday
“Flawless. . . . Poetic. . . . Superbly portrayed. . . . [Faulks’s] feat of imagination . . . is phenomenal.” –Daily Telegraph