In The Other Garden Francis Wyndham manages a classic form, the first-person novella, with great delicacy and originality. His first person, as in his collection of short stories Mrs Henderson, is a gentle, helpful, observant boy growing up during the Second World War, a boy who is eventually bewildered by what human beings do to each other. He seems reluctant to define himself and Wyndham never gives him a name. At the beginning of his story 'Obsessions' he quotes Valéry's Monsieur Teste: C'est ce que j'ai d'inhabile, d'incertain, qui est bien moi-même. But this boy is also a historian. Around him, or just out of his reach, there are glittering and mysterious figures, his elders and their friends and relations, and beyond them a region of myth, the partygoers of the Twenties, the film stars of the Thirties. He has something in common with Leo in L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between, but without the strain and the treacherous anxiety to please the great ones which bring Leo to ruin. What he offers, as a historian, is not curiosity but sympathy, and what he is looking for turns out to be an innocence which, even in the most unlikely places, can be recognised as something like his own.
LRB 17 September 1987 | PDF Download