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
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
comedy Erm...he seems to be back
tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
- 2 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 3 Andy Murray takes to Twitter to show off his Christmas jumper
- 4 Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'
- 5 Top 10 travel destinations for 2015: From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
Madonna Rebel Heart: Pharrell Williams collaboration and 13 more songs leaked
Vagina canoe artist defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'