Entertainment Book Reviews

Monday 23 October 2017

Dark Edwardian love saga

Fiction: Edith & Oliver, Michele Forbes, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, €20.99

Edith & Oliver by Michele Forbes
Edith & Oliver by Michele Forbes

Anne Cunningham

Orpheus and Eurydice, Romeo and Juliet, Bonnie and Clyde, Oscar and Lucinda - so many tragic love stories have been written and recorded since we took pen to paper and we still can't get enough of them. Michele Forbes, acclaimed actor and author, adds to this very long list with her Edwardian novel of love, loss, illusion and self-delusion. Although at times I was tempted to rename the story "Oliver & Oliver" but more of that anon.

Edith is a pianist, making a living playing in the music halls of Belfast at the turn of the last century. Oliver is a magician, although he insists he's an "illusionist", and they have a bizarre drunken encounter after a show where Edith loses a bothersome tooth, thanks to Oliver, and the plot proceeds from there.

Swiftly married and without enough work in Belfast to support their new twins, they move to Huddersfield, living with a kindly older couple and their son. At least Edith and the twins move to Huddersfield. Oliver takes to the road, plying his trade (or his "art") across northern England and Scotland, with varying degrees of success. A drink problem, an excessively bloated ego, and the arrival of moving pictures keep Oliver scratching around in the small time, while the money he sends home keeps his new family tottering precariously on the brink of hopeless poverty, into which they eventually descend.

Oliver is blighted by his childhood, by his mother's accidental death, his father's drunken brutality and his brother's abandonment of him. His life's mission is to make things better for himself, for Edith and for his children. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions and Oliver's arrogance is the rock on which he will perish, taking his family down with him on his inevitable descent.

This is a grim Edwardian parable of one man's hubris and the destruction it effects. And therein, I suppose, is my only gripe. It's all about Oliver and not Edith.

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