Greenwich Exchange, £9.99
Waterdrops, By John Lucas
Monday 27 February 2012
In the “mostly sun-filled days” of summer 1944, two children, nine-year-old David and his younger sister Sarah, are holidaying with their grandparents in the country near Peterborough. Their mother should have come but has stayed behind, leaving the pair at a loose end, irritable. Back in Leicestershire, David had his pal Robin, his choir practice, the Fox gang, and his GI friend, Jay Krassner from Gary, Indiana, drummer in a swing band.
Here he has only Sarah and her toy bear for company; she even gives silly screams on seeing a dragonfly. These elicit no sympathy from David, so, after a silence, the girl takes revenge: “She opened her mouth and, without looking at him, spoke. At first, he wasn't sure that he'd heard her correctly. When he realised he had, he was shocked into numbness. Speech comes only with difficulty: ”I don't believe you.“ An assertion he repeats, this time shouting.
But he does believe her. We, who only learn what the little girl said at the end of the chapter, believe her also. That something is believed doesn't mean it's true; equally, not to be believed is no proof of untruth. John Lucas's novel is a mystery-like series of Russian dolls, an enthralling narrative of a small boy's year of discovery and his adult self's patient quest for fuller knowledge, and a meditation on belief given convincing flesh-and-blood.
Belief creates its own mental world. David and Sarah's father, Stephen, marooned in bomb-harassed Malta, is sustained – as his lively, extensively quoted letters show – by trust in love as resident everywhere. But belief can also destroy. As the novel's second part, set in 1994, demonstrates, shared conviction becomes conviction in another sense: life imprisonment.
Before the war, Stephen was an English teacher; later, his son David will lecture in literature. The title is from Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. “'As true as Troilus' shall crown up the verse,” its hero says of himself. But for most of us, being stalwart is not so easy. In the play, Cressida responds that only “when waterdrops have worn the stones of Troy” should “memory upbraid” her falsehood. Lucas's beautiful, profoundly charitable art makes us experience this desideratum afresh.
Order for £9.49 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rules on 5p plastic bags likely to lead to arguments at the check-out
- 2 Hulk Hogan wants to be Donald Trump's running mate in the US Presidential election
- 3 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
- 4 News agency criticised for describing Amal Clooney as 'actor's wife' in coverage of human rights trial
- 5 David De Gea to Real Madrid: Real finally get their man with £29m bid for Manchester United goalkeeper
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge?'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director promises most exciting premiere yet 'starts off with a bang'
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Online toy marathon to launch new film
Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet: Technician quits after social media row with actor's fans
Evian Christ cancels Reading festival appearance after being 'trapped in a cage' at Leeds by staff
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up