BOOK REVIEW / Ghostly sons and lovers: 'The Magnolia' - Philip Callow: Allison & Busby, 5.99 pounds

PHILIP CALLOW's career as a writer runs back to the Fifties. Common People, a fine early novel, dates from 1958, and he contributed to Tom Maschler's collection of 'committed' post-Suez essays Declaration (1957).

Though you can search through the literary histories without finding so much as a mention of his name, Callow has ploughed a distinctive if lonely furrow. His strongest influence has always seemed to be D H Lawrence: certainly his heroes tend to be aloof, embittered solitaries, their vigour guttering away in relationships with unsympathetic women or frustrated grapplings with art; it is perhaps significant that his latest protagonist should harbour vague notions of writing a book about this 'crazy, marvellous man'.

The Magnolia is a slight variation on Callow's familiar themes of neurosis, deracination and unease. Sent to recuperate from a nervous breakdown in a hospital on the fringes of what might be Dartmoor, Daniel, its middle-aged hero, finds himself gradually enthralled by the gargantuan meals, routine chatter and pill-fuelled brooding. Serenity leads to reflection and, prompted by an inquisitive fellow-patient, he begins to trawl back through the frets and crises of his adult life. Most of these have to do with his wife, Cora, and by far the longest section of reminiscence is taken up with the doomed relationship she conducted years before with an Irish aesthete.

More pressing is the question of immediate destiny. Let out of the hospital, Daniel decides against returning to Cora and his disapproving mother-in-law and settles instead for a stay with his equally neurotic mother. When this becomes unbearable ('her morbid conscience gave him no rest') he resolves to buy his own cottage in a remote part of the West Country. There, sustained by a few inconclusive relationships, he hears news of his mother's death; the event prompting in him an odd resignation, a determination to endure, and a belief that 'for some mysterious reason he had been spared, granted another chance'.

Unobtrusively set out - most of the action seems to take place in the early Seventies - the writing benefits from Callow's impressionistic eye for detail: 'The light was harsh, the bushes of evergreen glittering, full of knives, the gravel dry and glittering underfoot'. Elsewhere the gnomic, repetitious conversations of a husband and wife burning with mutual antipathy have a dreadful air of conviction. All this might sound famously depressing - a sort of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest without the jokes. Oddly, the effect is to make one wish that more people wrote in this grainy and resolutely down-beat style.

The Magnolia is slightly old-fashioned: guilt, fear, Lawrentian humanism - even the diligent symbolism of the tree that gives the novel its title seems mildly stagey. The resigned, stoical finale, too, stirs all sorts of 40-year- old ghosts. To balance this is the thought that few of Callow's fellow Fifties survivors have worn as well.

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk