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
Broadcaster unveils Christmas scheduleTV
Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
- 2 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 3 Bill Cosby: Isn’t it obvious why his accusers have stayed silent up until now?
- 4 Halle Berry takes ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry to court for allegedly trying to make daughter look less African-American
- 5 Isis propaganda image showing 'abuse of Muslim woman by soldiers' is actually taken from Hungarian porn film
Black Mirror Christmas special: Jon Hamm episode will see people 'blocked' in real life
True Detective series 2: Rachel McAdams cast in female lead as 'no-nonsense' detective
Zoella: YouTube sensation Zoe Sugg's debut novel expected to become overnight bestseller
Naked free runner captured in breathtaking photographs above London's streets
Posh People: Inside Tatler, BBC2 - TV review: Fundamentally not just about posh people
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services
Exclusive: UK approved £7m Israeli arms sales in six months before Gaza conflict