Here’s one for Conrad aficionados, because the author – a London literary agent – makes no concession to readers unfamiliar with the patriarch’s life. A reference to the Paris Olympics on page 76 fixes the year as 1924. However, readers new to JC, as he was known, can be moved by this gentle, subtle debut novel. It feels as if it should be part of something more, yet is nonetheless profound in its psychological insight. Most of the enormous cast of characters are listed over several pages at the front of the book. The reader is given a glimpse into the week surrounding the death of Conrad. Family and friends have gathered at his house on the outskirts of Canterbury for the August bank holiday to celebrate the 18th birthday of his younger son, through whose eyes much of the narrative unfolds. JC collapses and dies. The book excels as a study in relationships; and in bereavement, restrained prose showing the dreamlike feeling of unreality as those who loved Conrad – his secretary, dissimilar sons, ailing wife, friends, servants – try to absorb the truth of death.
A tribute to Conrad; a window on a family’s grief.