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A chance meeting has New Zealand writer Laszlo Winter thinking back to his time in London in the late 1950s. The Empire might be in a state of collapse, but for young 'colonials', England remains a mythical place that draws them from the farthest corners of the globe. There was Australian Samantha Conlan, clever, desirable, hopelessly in love with married Jewish New Zealander Freddy Goldstein, who carried with him a dark history. Rajiv, an earnest young Indian at work on a study of Yeats and the Indian mind. The enigmatic Margot, whose bond with her athletic brother Mark troubled Laszlo in ways he didn't quite understand. Heather, the call girl with whom Laszlo exchanged lessons on Shakespeare for lessons in love. The great writers of the time, and the details of their lives are recorded by Samantha in her idiosyncratic research project that she named her Secret History of Modernism. There was all of that and more, and then there was Laszlo, knocking blindly about among them, despairing at his academic prospects, and gradually realising that he was, would only ever be, a storyteller. Now, years later, from the other side of the world, the people seem to spring to life again, in this beguiling work by one of New Zealand's foremost writers.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099447061
ISBN-10: 0099447061
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 128mm x 16mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 6-Feb-2003
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Other Editions


UK Kirkus Review » In Stead's remarkable novel, an unexpected encounter prompts New Zealand writer Laszlo Winter to muse on the time he spent in London in the late 1950s. For young 'colonials' then, the Empire was a magical place that drew them inexorably from all over the map. Laszlo remembers Australian Samantha Cohen, locked in hopeless love with the married Freddy Goldstein; the intense Rajiv from India, studying Yeats; callgirl Heather (with whom Laszlo exchanged Shakespearian tutoring for sexual favours); the enigmatic brother and sister Mark and Margot, whose relationship Laszlo struggled to understand; and colourful characters such as the Maltese Mr Spitfire and the fishmonger known as 'How Repulsive'. All come to life again for Laszlo as decades later, back in New Zealand, he tries to uncover what happened to them. He finds out... or does he? One of the pleasures of Stead?s beautifully written novel is the uncertainty as to how much of what we are reading may be taken on trust. Is Laszlo giving us an accurate picture of London before the Swinging Sixties, or is his work as idiosyncratic and unreliable as Samantha Cohen's research project, the Secret History that lends its name to Stead's novel? We expect elegant writing and quirky, eccentric characterization from Stead; all of that is here, along with an intriguing sleight-of-hand by the author concerning the very nature of the fiction we are reading. Not a new device, admittedly, but few have pulled off the conceit as effectively as Stead does here; this is as successful as his previous Talking about O'Dwyer. (Kirkus UK)

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Author Biography - C. K. Stead

C.K. Stead was Professor of English at the University of Aukland until 1986. In 1984 he was awarded the CBE for services to New Zealand literature. He has published eleven volumes of poetry, two volumes of stories, several works of criticism, a memoir and twelve novels including, most recently, Risk.

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