Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Last Score: The Private Life of Sir Richard Ormston by Storm Jameson (pub. 1961)

I’ve been reading two political novels by Storm Jameson (1891 - 1986). The first one was Last Score from 1961 and the second In the Second Year published in 1936. It was finished in 1935 which puts it directly contemporaneous with It couldn’t happen Here by Sinclair Lewis published in 1935. Both are about fascist takeover and while the American book was deemed to be prophetic due to Trump, because Trump, the Englishwoman’s book had its source in the very real events in Europe and mad marching Mosely in England.

Last Score is based on the E.O.K.A. insurgency in Cyprus of the late 50‘s featuring the family life of Sir Richard Ormston and his dealing with the rebels. Spying, treason, torture: that sort of thing. My feeling about Jameson is that she couldn’t write a really bad book but that due to legal concerns, certain unrealities emerge to separate the character of Ormston from the real governor of Cyprus Sir John Harding who also dealt with the Mau Mau in Kenya. That good Sir John died in great old age festooned with honours though the torture claims linger on marks the difference between a possible fiction and truth we can’t handle. The astute reader of the day would decant the novel through a muslin of irony; take the glass of whisky and leave the revolver.

The character of Sir Richard, his relationships to his wife, his son, his mother and, his lover are true to the life of a steadily climbing careful colonial administrator more usually right than wrong. Until!

His wife is the plain only daughter of a deceased merchant banker. The money was useful to advance his career but she is no good at the social side of Governorship. Mother does that.

He made an effort, smiled, and managed to reply with the gentleness and polite tolerance he rarely failed to use with her: it hid, decently, he thought, the cold purgatory of boredom his marriage had day by day become. "That depends what you mean by awful. She's a loose young woman. That's surely enough."

The ‘loose young woman’ is Sarah Ling the daughter of the newspaper publisher critical of the colonial regime. By the way Cyprus is never mentioned but a reference here and there makes the location clear.

Ormston visits the prisoner:

Frent, he learned at police headquarters, was out. An officer called Senior was on duty in his room, a big stout comfortable fellow with burnished cheeks and twinkling blue eyes, the spit of a country grocer, very reassuring. The prisoner, he said cheerfully, had been put to bed in one of the cells, he was not sure which, but the prison doctor had seen him, and if His Excellency would like to talk to that officer . . .
Ormston cut him short. "I want to see the prisoner. At once. I haven't much time."
Did he catch or imagine a trace of embarrassment on the fellow's good-humoured face? If it had been there, it vanished instantly and its place was filled by the blank pseudo-face Captain Senior kept in readiness, behind his features of a decent only slightly rascally village tradesman, for use when some important person, so important that Hector Senior should never have been left to deal with him, was behaving out of character. Deplorably out of character. What call had His Excellency the Governor to appear here, without warning, without an aide, and demand to see a man who was no longer of any interest since he had been squeezed dry? It was all very difficult. Not the least of his difficulties was marching sideways, so that he led the way without leading.

Marching sideways indeed. This is an excellent novel. Jameson can do that devilishly intricate stunt for a woman of getting into a chap’s mind. Ordinary everyday evil highly placed can inflict grievous political damage. The subtitle of the book is The Private Life of Sir Richard Ormston. Take that as the gravamen of the charge; strain the rest.

In the Second Year must be for another post. Both novels are available on in the usual formats.

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