Friday, 28 March 2014

Forgotten Book - The Walking Stick

The Walking Stick is a novel written by Winston Graham at the peak of his powers and it's very good news that Bello have reissued it, along with many other of his books. I'd seen the film based on it and made in 1970, starring Samantha Eggar and David Hemmings, and really enjoyed it. The book, published three years earlier, was just as good, and even though it is to some extent of its time, it seems to me to have worn very well, as so many books written by really good storytellers do.

By the time he wrote this book, Graham was a very experienced crime writer. If you compare it to Take My Life, which I blogged about recently, it's got more depth and more subtlety. It's a mark of his confidence that he felt able to write in the first person, as a young woman suffering from a disability (her leg has been badly damaged by polio, hence her need for the titular walking stick) and to do so in a way that carries conviction .Deborah, one of three daughters in a wealthy family, compensates for a sense of insecurity with a rather brusque approach, and the way she rebuffs an attractive young man, Leigh, who evidently fancies her, may seem unlikely to some readers, but I found it credible. In the end, however, she succumbs to his advances.

Leigh, unfortunately, is a bit of a dodgy character. He's an artist - but how good are his paintings? And how reliable are his accounts of his previous life? From the outset, it's clear that there is more to him than meets the eye. Graham's portrayal of Leigh reminded me of Francis Iles' portrayal of Johnnie in Before the Fact, and I did wonder if the earlier book was a slight influence, even thought the plots are very different, and the build-up here is slower than in the Iles classic. Even so, I gulped the story down..

Graham is interested in the moral choices that people make, and through careful character-building, he makes us believe in the choices - both good and bad, wise and foolish - that his narrator makes. Yet there's nothing preachy about this story - it's a straightforward yarn, yet told so fluently that it also makes you think a bit. Not too much, though - first and foremost, Graham was an entertainer. And a very accomplished one too.

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