If you enjoyed the powerful atmosphere of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby you may just have an inkling of the smoothly professional efficacy of Alec Waugh's The Fatal Gift.
His novel breathes the values and attitudes of the early decades of the 20th century. Raymond Peronne has wealth, is bright, is devastatingly attractive to women: his fatal gift. Second son of a baronet, Perronne goes to Oxford (from which he is rusticated), then to New York (in the '20s and '30s) and is in Egypt during the war (moving in circles then, as in this novel, inhabited by such as Evelyn Waugh, Claud Cockburn and Robin Maugham). In tense anticipation we watch Peronne, for whom good fortune seems always imminent, fall at every point-until he finds the isle of Dominica and begins a love affair the like of which he has never known.
Alec Waugh (1898-1981) was a British novelist born in London and educated at Sherborne Public School, Dorset. Waugh’s first novel, The Loom of Youth (1917), is a semi-autobiographical account of public-school life that caused some controversy at the time and led to his expulsion. Waugh was the only boy ever to be expelled from The Old Shirburnian Society.
Despite setting this record, Waugh went on to become the successful author of over 50 works, and lived in many exotic places throughout his life which later became the settings for some of his texts. He was also a noted wine connoisseur and campaigned to make the cocktail party a regular feature of 1920s social life.
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Alec Waugh absolutely captures the pre-world war 1 rise of a smart wine merchant merchant and his family into respectability and wealth and on into the 1920s. The narrator has the accents and nuances down pat. I remember older people talking this way into the 1950s. The descriptions of character and place are vivid. The story held me and I was very unhappy when I had finished it. Shell shocked veterans and suffragettes are all there. Excellent escapist summer read and written in beautiful prose.
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