Stephenson Holt Author

A précis of the novel can be found elsewhere in other reviews. Never mind not judging a book by its cover, the moral here is to not judge by reviews. I came across this book in a rather strange way. Writing a novel based just after the 1st WW a search of dates, for research purposes, obviously brought up this suggestion. A purchased copy from a book recycling company landed on my doorstep, the front cover boasting it to be a ‘Jonathan Cape Uncorrected Proof’ with a close up picture of an eye as a cover illustration (presumably a close-up eye of the face on the current UK cover). Other covers I have seen are a woman’s head??? Presumably Tillie although who knows why, and an envelope of dirt – far too much dirt if you read the novel.

Gratingly the novel reminded me of others, but which and by who?


What intrigued me about this now much loved novel, was the style of writing which took me a while to work out and understand. Written in third person, it often doesn’t feel like it because we spend so much time in Joseph’s head. In fact, long passages in his mind can often be shocked-out by a third person jump at the end, reminding the reader that this is not a first person narrative. There are even paragraphs of third person with thought, perhaps stream of consciousness thought, intermixed.



It wasn’t until I was near the end of the book that it came to me and I realised the novels it reminded me of, a question that had been bugging me. Crime And Punishment was one and the other similarity took my head back in history. Years ago I worked in an office where I used to read in my lunch break, a novel always being in my (then trendy) shoulder bag. “What you reading?” Came a question. “Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre” my reply. My questioner informed me the author was hated by him. “He can take two pages to boil a kettle for a cup of tea.” He told me. But, oh what a two pages that was, I thought. And so, there it was. Nausea and Crime And Punishment. Lose yourself in this novel, enter Joseph’s head but be led through Europe by the author, not by Joseph who seems lost and should not be trusted in his decisions.


Joseph’s attempt at writing a novel needs a muse. Will it be a visit to the battlefields of the first world war or will it be one of two women? We suffer with him until that muse is found elsewhere. Not a novel with an incisive moment, plot and conclusion but a firm instruction on how it felt to be alive just after the war and flu epidemic.


I have read reviews from others who have enjoyed Adam Thorpe books but not enjoyed this one. Unfortunately, that has had the effect of stopping me reading any of his other novels, because I want this one to stay in my mind.