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
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist who knocked down three-year-old girl says his life has been 'destroyed'
- 2 A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next
- 3 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 4 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 5 Snoop Dogg on why he doesn't regret displaying misogyny towards women
Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Game of Thrones, The Gift, Season 5, Episode 7: Why two of the show’s most iconic characters just met
Eurovision 2015: Estonia seemingly enters Louis Tomlinson from One Direction
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland