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The Big-hearted Little Duke

The Big-hearted Little Duke

Richard of Normandy, the hero of Charlotte Mary Yonge’s The Little Duke, is only 8 when the story begins. I must have been about the same age when I first read it and some of its scenes, with their rugged Norman settings, have remained with me ever since. My children loved it too, but when I came across it again the other day I wondered if I dared reread it. Would it be too moralistic, too old-fashioned? Why disturb my childhood memories? I soon found I needn’t have worried. The Little Duke is as exciting and moving as ever. And it is amazing how much historical knowledge the simply told story conveys.
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May Roses in Winter

May Roses in Winter

The preface is in the form of a rather tetchy report by a psychoanalyst who has been consulted by Zeno Corsini. The analyst says that he must apologize for having suggested that ‘my patient write his autobiography, students of psychology will frown on this new departure. But he was an old man . . . he seemed so curious about himself.’ His patient has terminated the analysis, so the analyst is publishing his patient’s notes ‘in revenge, and I hope he is displeased’.
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Not So Cosy After All?

Not So Cosy After All?

On the face of it, crimes don’t get much cosier than those which appear in the first six novels of the Flavia sequence. The convention of Slightly Foxed dictates that titles are normally tucked away in a footnote, but I think it is worth savouring the delightful cadence of all six here: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie; The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag; A Red Herring without Mustard; I Am Half-Sick of Shadows; Speaking from among the Bones and The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. To me, each of these seems to have exactly the right balance of whimsy and menace, and these are promises that are admirably fulfilled in the books that follow.
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A Confrontation with Evil

A Confrontation with Evil

It seems a rather odd thing to admit these days, but I spent much of my youth reading war comics and watching war films. That’s how it was if you lived in a house filled with boys in the 1960s. As a result I can still recite, without recourse to Wikipedia, the names of the three men who won a bar to the Victoria Cross (Chavasse, Martin- Leake and Upham, if you are interested), and I can easily recall the boiling hot afternoons during the summer holidays that I spent at Tobruk or on the Normandy beaches, flying low over the Möhne dam or high in the skies above Kent – all while sitting in a 1/9d seat at the Regal Cinema, Wallingford . . .

In Search of Home

Lost in Translation (1989) could not be more specific to time and place – lost and longed-for postwar Cracow, ‘a city of shimmering light and shadow’, of ‘narrow byways . . . echoing courtyards . . . medieval church spires, and low, Baroque arcades’, whose very streets were impregnated with Hoffman’s sense of her developing self; and suburban ’60s Vancouver, with its improbably smooth and velvety lawns, enormous picture windows, ‘disingenuous’ furniture, all of it whitish with gold trimmings.
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Beside the Folly Brook

Beside the Folly Brook

In 1970 I told BB how much I loved his books. I wrote the letter sitting at the window in a house tucked into a Devon cliff, with pine woods behind and the sea in front. I’m sitting there now. It’s the sort of place BB would have adored, the recesses of undergrowth and exposed headlands teeming with wildlife. This, I imagined, was the setting for The Little Grey Men (1942). Here were all the ingredients, including wood dogs (foxes), fernbears (badgers) and above all a winding stream. In my mind this was the Folly Brook, up which the last gnomes in England travel on their heroic quest to find their missing brother, and down which they flee in their boat the Jeanie Deans, in the 1948 sequel, Down the Bright Stream.
Seeing Differently

Seeing Differently

On the cover was Gauguin’s rendition of Jacob wrestling with the angel from his Vision after the Sermon. On the back, Hill himself scowled out from under a supremely confident comb-over in an author photograph with no hint of warmth or welcome. Licence was granted for this attitude by the words of praise around it, the first of which, from Michael Longley, declared, ‘He is a profound genius, the best poet writing in English.’ Other encomia came from the likes of George Steiner and Christopher Ricks. This was ideal.
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