Page 6, 12th August 1988

12th August 1988
Page 6
Page 6, 12th August 1988 — x ord weeps and laughs

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Locations: Oxford


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x ord weeps and laughs


Young Betjeman by Bevis Hillier (John Murray £15.95). Bevis Hillier first told me of his projected life of John Betjeman about seven years ago when he was already collecting material for it. By the time John died he had so much that he was in trouble. For all his chiselling away he soon realised he would have to go to two volumes.

The first volume, taking the Betjeman story down to 1933 is tantalisingly well-written: tantalising because John, whom I was lucky enough to know well, leaps — well, "peers" would be a better word — out of every page with his puckish personality developing fascinatingly before one's eyes.

How marvellous to be alive in the Oxford of Harold Acton, Maurice Bowra and Betjeman's other friends of the twenties. When I first met John a generation later in post-war Oxford he told stories that made one weep and laugh, as does this book, so delicately but firmly treading the same paths.

Seeds of Liberty by John Miller (Souvenir Press £15.95). Well, was it "Glorious" or not — that is, the Revolution of 1688 — 9? John Miller is a leading historian of the period in question and gives a paradoxical answer, which is where the principal strength and charm of the book lies. Many things in Britain changed hardly at all for another hundred years. I won't tell you what this thoughtful author concludes about the areas that did change; it would be too like giving away the solution of a thriller.

Suffice it to say that the conclusions differ significantly from views generally accepted so far. And some of the effects of 1688 are still operative today in ways one would not imagine until reading this excellent and profusely illustrated work.

To Hear a Nightingale by Charlotte Bingham (Michael Joseph £11.95). As difficult as imitating an American accent (even the best of mimics fail) is to write a long novel in North American style without edging into caricature. Charlotte Bingham succeeds triumphantly.

You are about to think that the fairytale element in the early life of Cassie McGann is going on forever until reality strikes with venom. From the depths, Cassie picks herself and knows she must win.

Charlotte Bingham, who shot to fame at twenty with Coronet Among the Weeds, has been very ambitious in attempting the US idiom to portray the small then big-town life of an allAmerican girl who grows into a woman whose victory over looming tragedy was the stuff of drama that brought Bette Davis to screen history about a thousand years ago. Acute in its observation of the rich-poor America that is about to elect another "world's most powerful man," Charlotte Bingham's ability to feel at home "upstairs" and "downstairs" sees her through to literary Midas-touching once again.

Gerard Noel

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