The Fox in the Attic

In a recent comment Richard D North drew a comparison between my stay with an aristocratic German family in 1972 and Richard Hughes’ 1961 novel, The Fox in the Attic. I must have read it more than forty years ago and had completely forgotten it, so it was a pleasure to read it again for the first time, as it were.

RDN wrote: “it is a rare piece of sustained (but quite muscular) poetic novel writing”. I would like to add that it has a sense of heightened realism. It reads like a film with the camera moving from crowd scenes as the Munich Putsch unfolds to a close-up of a man using the wire stem of his poppy to pick his teeth; there are vertiginous rooftop scenes, sleigh rides in the snow and evocative descriptions of rural England and Wales; it evokes sounds and smells. The plot shifts between domestic scenes and political events in England and Germany after WWI. The political angle is accurate, I think, and is woven into the story without seeming clunky. It is truly an epic novel and should be better known. Some of the characters become introspective about themselves and their being; these were the only bits I struggled with.

Most importantly for a reader today, the pace is brisk and the chapters short. I mentioned RC Hutchinson’s Testament here but I have found it too slow-moving and have given up what was becoming a slog rather than a pleasure.

Half a century ago I enjoyed Dennis Wheatley’s novels about Gregory Sallust. That’s how I learned the history of WWII, but I grew to realise that when Sir Pellinore Gwaine-Cust summoned Sallust to Carlton House Terrace and opened the vintage champagne (drunk from silver tankards) I was in for a history lesson before the story got exciting again. The Fox in the Attic weaves fact and fiction more subtly.

Does anyone still read Dennis Wheatley? Alan Furst is his equivalent now and a lot more readable.

One thought on “The Fox in the Attic”

  1. I must raise my hand and confess to being an unashamed Wheatley fan (as I think, suprisingly, was Anthony Powell) and remember well the frisson as dog-eared paperbacks of “To the Devil- a Daughter” were traded surreptitiously in the school playground. There is a fascinating biography of the old boy, which you might enjoy: Phil Baker’s “The Devil is a Gentleman- the Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley”, and DW’s own three autobiographies- “The Young Man Said”, “Officer & Temporary Gentleman” and “Drink and Ink” are highly entertaining and well worth reading.

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