Monday, July 20, 2015

'The Honours' by Tim Clare

20 July 2015

I've just finished reading 'The Honours' – the debut novel by the poet Tim Clare (as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Julie Teal). It's a peculiar book. Set between the wars, it tells the story of thirteen-year-old Delphine Venner. Delphine's father has suffered a breakdown and is taken, with his family, to recuperate at Alderberen Hall in Norfolk – home to a progressive 'Society' which uses a variety of new practices to improve the mind and body. Soon Delphine – the only child in this stately home commune – begins to suspect something more sinister is going on. Eavesdropping on the adults, discovering secret passages and befriending the grumpy gamekeeper, Mr Garforth, she sets out to discover the truth. But as the story develops it becomes clear that there is not going to be a rational solution to the puzzle Delphine is attempting to resolve. The conventional country-house narrative gives way to a fantasy story with the arrival of vicious creatures from another dimension. 'The Honours' is an ambitious undertaking, echoing the looming storm of the Second World War with the threat of a supernatural invasion of Britain, whilst also exploring themes of mental illness, immortality, time travel and more. I'm not sure it completely works: the action scenes are so meticulously described that they seem to go on forever, and there are far too many loose ends untied at the close. 'The Honours' could also have benefited from a little humour as light relief occasionally. Nevertheless, it is beautifully written: you can feel the poet's touch in phrases such as “the distant treeline hung like an unresolved chord”, “his slicked-back hair, receding at the temples, gave the impression he was moving at speed”, and “his posture shivered with the concentrated tension of a mousetrap.” This playfulness with metaphors, together with the country-house setting and a touch of the supernatural, reminded me of the novels of Ned Beauman (such as 'The Teleportation Accident', reviewed here in July 2013) but without Beauman's comic touch. Still, it will be interesting to see what Tim Clare writes next.



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