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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

"Hatter's Castle" by A J Cronin

Cronin's first novel is remarkably Dickensian in tone; almost inevitably it features a hero doctor.

However the main thrust of the story revolves around James Brodie, a hat-seller, who lives in a fantastical house that he has designed in the small Scottish town of Levenford. Brodie is a paterfamilias, a patriarch and a violent bully. He has completely cowed his wife, Margaret, who has been complicit in permitting him to bully his three children: Matt, a boy of working age, stepping out with his girlfriend Agnes; Mary a young girl with a new boyfriend Denis, of whom Brodie disapproves on the grounds that he is Irish and that his father owns a pub; and Nessie, Brodie's favourite, a young girl at school who he drives to be always the top of the class. Rounding out this dominated household is Brodie's mother, a crone whose only pleasure in life is her food.

The mostly-predictable plot delivers a moral nemesis to Brodie as, one by one, and in a variety of ways, his children and his wife fail to live up to the standards he has demanded and desert him. But the pleasure of the book lies not in a plot that twists and turns but in the very inevitability of fate. The fundamental strength of the book is the strength of the characters, especially that of Brodie.

At one point (2.4) Brodie is said to be as proud as Lucifer and the same fall is predicted; perhaps there is a genre of plot which exemplifies the phrase 'pride comes before a fall' such as that of Lucifer or Icarus.

It is, for modern tastes, over-written with too much description and certainly too many exclamation marks!!! One can see its Dickensian heritage. But as a portrait of life in a small town it was a deserved best-seller and it is a shame that it seems to be out of print.

A notable feature of this novel is that one of the characters is killed off in the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879 when a bridge collapsed with a train on it.

The first chapter was, for me, the best, with a masterful portrayal of the dynamics of the little family, cramped into the confines of the small 'castle', and dominated by fear of the patriarchal bully.

The dialogue is written mostly in lowland Scots dialect:

  • "a' these hard frosts maun break some time"
  • "I dinna ken what it's to celebrate exactly, but ye micht ca' it a beanfeast without any beans."
  • "Bide a wee"
  • etc

Other quotes:

  • "If ye've something to say then we'll all stop and listen to the wonder o' it." (1.1)
  • "Matthew, looking stiff and sheepish in a brand new suit, so new indeed that when he was not in motion his trouser legs stood to attention with edges sharp as parallel presenting swords." (1.4)
  • "the rending emotions of a pain intolerably sweet, and a pleasure unbearably intoxicating." (1.6)
  • "Unstable as water, and as shallow, she reflected merely the omnipresent shadow of another stronger than herself." (1.9)
  • "She was, of course, a Christian woman, with all the respectable convictions which this implied. To attend church regularly on Sundays ... to condemn the use of the grosser words of the vocabulary, such as 'Hell' or 'Damn', fully justified her claim to godliness." (1.9)
  • "You're like a knotless thread" (2.7)
  • "her actions were as stealthy and inaudible as the movements of a shadow." (2.8)

Cronin also wrote

October 2019; 460 pages

Other works with 'Castle' in the title featured in this blog include:

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