Tuesday, August 19, 2008

THIS SECRET GARDEN – Oxford Revisited
Justin Cartwright – Bloomsbury - $35

Somehow back in May I missed publication of this the latest title in Bloomsbury’s superb The Writer & The City series. That oversight corrected I can now happily report that The Secret Garden maintains the high standard set by the six titles in the series already published.

Cartwright, born in South Africa but lives in London, is a highly acclaimed novelist having been shortlisted for the Booker Prize with In Every face I Meet, winning the Whitbread Novel Award in 1999 for Leading the Cheers, while in 2007 he won the Hawthornden Prize for The Promise of Happiness.

He is a graduate of Trinity College Oxford in the late 60’s and in this utterly charming and beautifully written book he returns to Oxford where he “tried to understand what Oxford is, was, and might be. It’s a personal account, an essay handed in late”.

Bloomsbury claim that “this is an enchanting and intelligent look at Oxford, indispensable reading for anyone interested in the myth and reality of this famed city”. And I must agree with them.
They might have added that the book is also a reflection on youth and age. Remember Cartwright was there as a young man and now returns aged 63 with much pondering about the Oxford of his youth. Not surprisingly then it is something of an emotional landscape and at times quite sad. And it is really more about gown than town.
A worthy addition to the series.

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