Publication: APRIL 2016 size: Royal 234x156mm HARDBACK. 480 pages
Price £19.99 in most bookshops or click on BUY for direct link to Amazon discounted price, plus delivery.
Booker Prize entry for 2016
This is a literary, and even scholarly, work of modern historical fiction, which is nevertheless – as is typical of really good writing – compulsive reading. Those with a special interest in history, history of art, and the spy era in Cambridge pre-WW11 will be particularly drawn to it. Witty and even shocking descriptions of sexual relationships as well as classical scholarship & politics are included.
DESCRIPTION OF THE STORY
This is a modern historical novel set in the UK from 1934 to 1941. A young American scholar arrives in Cambridge University to study art history in 1934. In a turbulent, highly sexed and academically intense environment, he is a sharp and charismatic witness. The cast of characters mirrors, in a mixed kaleidoscopic form, the famous and also notorious group of communist Cambridge friends who went on to betray their country.
Through the influence of his godfather, a very wealthy American with dual British and USA nationality living in London, the narrator also gains an entrée into the leading circles of politics. He penetrates to the heart of the debate between Fascism and Communism as argued by the Cambridge acolytes such as Burgess, Hobsbawm, Blunt; and the core of the political conflict between the appeasers led by Chamberlain, and his opponents, led by Churchill.
This fictionalised story of a crucial period in modern history has a raw and only too credible denouement.
Michael Holzman is an American scholar with a track record in non-fiction. This is his first novel.
September 30, 1934, Sunday
Michaelmas term starts tomorrow. After moving my things into Mrs Roff’s I went for a walk along Trumpington. Or, at least it started as Trumpington, but kept changing its name, first to King’s Parade, then Trinity Street, then St. John’s Street & finally Bridge Street. It is one way of keeping track of the colleges you pass on the way. There are a few small shops on that route, but the town proper is off to the side, around Corn Exchange, where there is a square with booths selling the sort of thing you get at Gillingham’s at home. Each college on Trumpington (or whichever) has a pompous gate, through which one can see lawns and around them the rooms of the undergraduates and fellows, the halls, libraries and chapels. Something like Harvard, but much more so. The back side of the colleges (called ‘the Backs’, naturally), are gardens running down to the River Cam, which is a pretty small, slow moving thing – much like the Ottauquechee, except that it is smaller and slower and crossed by foot bridges at short intervals and nowhere crossed by a covered bridge.
On the way back to Mrs Roff’s I stopped in at Arthur Shepherds to order the regulation black gown and at another shop bought some of those thick flannel striped shirts students wear here.
A windy day, with blue skies.
October 1, 1934, Monday
Breakfast at Mrs Roff’s is made up from ‘commons’: bread, milk and butter delivered from the College buttery. Lunch, if you like, and dinner, as you must, are taken in the College Hall (dinner in evening dress under academic gown), even if you live in lodgings. Hall, like so much else here, I recognize as an original of which New England is filled with imitations. To get to Hall you go into Trinity College from Trinity Lane (which is actually Trumpington, of course), through the Great Gate and across the Great Court, of which the chapel forms the right & Hall the far side. The Great Court is carpeted with grass close cut in alternating directions, giving the whole space the effect of a vast room that has somehow become open to the sky. Hall is entered from the back, as in a church, but instead of pews across the width and an altar at the far end, there are long rows of tables along the length, and, across the width, two more at the far end, these two collectively called High Table, where the Fellows eat. The Master sits at the head of one of the High Tables, the next senior Fellow at the other. Before dinner, they say Grace: Oculi omnium in te sperant, Domine, et tu das escam illorum in tempore opportune, etc. (More or less, ‘We’re waiting for our food’.) Tonight they took turns at it, which I am told is something of a game for them.Then the waiters came out & served the Fellows and the undergraduates (everyone in their academic gowns) and the place exploded in a Bedlam of clanking silver and shouted conversation. Afterwards, the waiters were allowed to collect the leftovers to take home to their families. It’s all very medieval. One half expects snarling dogs under the tables.
October 9, 1934,Thursday
I went in my new cap and gown to meet my tutor. Struggling there through a violent rain storm, I arrived perfectly sodden. He was a bit sceptical when, dripping, I told him I want to take Part I of the English Tripos at the end of this year, but eventually he said that although he didn’t know anything about my schooling, he was sure it had been ‘adequate’ as I had done well on the Previous Examination. Having finished that negotiation, we decided on a lecture-list & the tutor said that he would ‘take under consideration the proper director’ for my studies. I can’t say that we hit it off.
I’ve been buying The Times every day, so as not to disappear completely into the Middle Ages, and I’ve bought a wireless; á propos of which the B.B.C. has just announced that the King of Yugoslavia and the French Foreign Minister were murdered this evening in Marseilles by ‘a supporter of the Croatian Nationalist movement’. I had no idea there was such a thing as a ‘Croatian Nationalist movement’. (Nor, for that matter, rioting English anti-Fascists, who, also according to The Times, gather in Hyde Park in London every few days in order to get arrested.)
An extract from later in the book:
A cold day with frost, but bright.
November 27, 1935,Wednesday
December 4, 1935,Wednesday
I picked up the new number of New Verse, which includes a wonderful poem by Auden, ‘To a Writer on his Birthday’. First ‘Our hopes were set still on the spies’ career . . . And all the secrets we discovered were/Extraordinary and false’.Phipps says that I’m to play my new Dietrich records only once each on any given day.
December 7, 1935
On the difference between the drawings and the paintings of the same artist: Watteau’s drawings are, according to Haxton, ‘realistic and bourgeois’, while the paintings reflecting ‘compound classes’ (?) are Rococo. Guardi shows a realism of subject matter, alongside stylization in the drawing.
Hoare and Laval have endorsed Mussolini’s demands in Ethiopia. So much for the League. (Watt says that Hoare has (had?) an American mistress who was part of a group of literary lesbians in Paris and somehow connected with ‘your millionaires’ the Guggenheims. I don’t see what that has to do with Ethiopia, unless there are copper mines there. An organization called For Intellectual Liberty has been started in Bloomsbury as a companion to a French anti-Fascist group. E. M. Forster, Henry Moore, Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender and C. P. Snow are involved. Perhaps there will be a war between the Italians and the English and French intellectuals. After all, Spender gets excited about ‘The essential delight of the blood . . .’
December 11, 1935
I showed Fiona some letters from one of those running controversies that English papers seem to specialize in. This one is about the advantages or disadvantages of allowing schoolgirls to be caned by their teachers. Apparently they are told to bend over a desk and lift their skirts to receive their punishment. Fiona was very amused. ‘Oh no, Sir, not the cane again . . . again’, she said, lifting her skirts and bending over my desk.
December 14, 1935
I mentioned to Fiona that Auden says that there are two kinds of art: escape art & what he calls ‘parable art’, that is ‘art which shall teach man to unlearn hatred & learn love’. Fiona argues that in these times they are the same thing, that the art we need, ‘if we need art at all’, is an art that teaches hatred, hatred of oppression and privilege. The problem, she says, has been that the Liberals and the Social Democrats don’t know how to hate. ‘They think it better to be decent & dead. As in Vienna. As in Berlin’.
December 19, 1935
I’m feeling better for the first day after a week in bed with the flu. I’m to go down to London tomorrow.
December 20, 1935
Jack took me to the smoking-room of the House of Commons. It was full of old boys sitting ’round tables and drinking whisky, laughing and shouting at the top of their voices as if they were in a pub. He said there are various committees about, discussing arrangements for when the war starts, ‘but you wouldn’t know it from that lot in the smoking-room’.
I saw the exhibition in Soho Square called ‘Artists Against War and Fascism’. There was a wonderful Pissarro. I then went around the Mayor Gallery in Cork Street with Haxton. He likes the Cocteau drawings, not for the drawing itself, but as ‘Statements About Character’. Derain, on the other hand, he says, is just a salon painter. The gallery rooms are quite plain: painted white. It is run by a friend of Haxton called Douglas Cooper – a very noisy person wearing very noisy tweeds.
We then went round to Zwemmer’s, where I screwed up my courage and asked to borrow a small Leger print. After a word from Haxton they let me have it until June.
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