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The Independent Culture
Closing Ranks by Dirk Bogarde, Viking pounds 16.99. Here's the set- up. An ancient nanny, on her death-bed, condemns as "tainted" the scion of the family to whom she has devoted her life. They are the Grayles, who live in decaying splendour in a magnificent Sussex house, variously described as shining, glowing, soft and sweet. Its rooms all have pet names, like Little Parlour, Gothic Room and Nursery Corridor. Some of the Grayles are called after places: there is Falmouth, his wife India and his son Rochester, for example. Others are just lumbered with plain silly names, like Loveday and Unity.

Three days and 182 pages later, the nanny still unburied, we are no nearer knowing the secret. It is July 1974, yet cow parsley still blooms, along with wallflowers, sweet williams and seeding lupins; apparently prophesying the Nineties, people talk of being "an item" and of lunching on radicchio. Various deeply embarrassing sex scenes have been described, and one reader, at least, has lost all interest in finding out about the dreadful taint.

The narrative is awkward and unconvincing. The descriptive style veers between one-word sentences - "Going."; "Plump."; "Trespassing." - and gruesome longer metaphors. When Unity tells her husband she fears she has cancer, for example, "his guts had torn into a jumble". The very first sentence describes the appearance of a nosy investigative journalist, with unpleasant sado-masochistic tendencies. He is virtually naked and "his sex, caught in its tight thong" is "juddering".

The denouement, if you can bear to wait for it, concerns a gruesome event during the repatriation of the Cossacks in 1945, followed by an even more gruesome murder. The effect of this on the reader is not hard to describe. It leaves you juddering. Sue Gaisford