Friday 11 December 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books - THE OFFENDERS by R.H.Ward

THE OFFENDERS by R.H.Ward was first published 1960 by Cassell & Co. Ltd and issued in paperback by Pan Books in 1962.

What a difference a distance of close enough 50 years makes.
Way back when the paperback edition was brand new, and made for rivetting reading to a youngster just starting out to learn about commuting, this book stuck in my mind because the hero, Benjamin Shreave, was the same age as me.
Schooldays were still fresh in my mind.
Benjamin Shreave is a 17 year old public school boy attending Elvey College. He is a monitor and lives a just about surviving life as he waits for his final year to end. He has already won a University scholarship.
Into his life walks Floria Colby who is half-Italian and the neice of the school's headmaster. Benjamin starts skipping school to go on walks with Floria through the woods and, eventually, the inevitable happens.
They nearly get caught when they go skinny dipping in the local pond at midnight.
Of course, a scandal erupts but for all the wrong reasons and Benjamin finds himself being sent home.
So for close to 50 years that is the story that I remember.
Coming across this book recently I looked forward to re-reading it.
Although all the story was there that I recalled there was a lot more to the story than met my younger eyes.
The story was set in the 1930s but the elements of this book can be transferred into today's setting.
The title of the book does not just refer to the main characters - each of the other characters in the book 'offend' in their own way.
There is Harker Lingard the housemaster who's own imagination reveals a part of his character that will destroy him.
Charles Clarke, a manipulative bully who is allowed to become too powerful.
Tullia Falder, Harker Lingard's sister, who supports her brother and not her husband, Neil, who is too close to Benjamin but is the voice of reason.
Finally, there is Floria's uncle the Reverend Walter Colby. For in Floria, this religious man, finds memories of a brief affair with her mother.
For 1960 this book touched on many issues that are commonplace today - for then not so much not enough to make an impact on my own 16 year old mind.
The blurb on the back of the book states that this story has 'The candour of 'Young Love' (a Danish novel by Johannes Allen) and the insight of (Sloan Wilson's)'A Summer Place'.
R.H.Ward, who died in 1969, writes with depth and style that gives a novel that three dimensional feel.


David Cranmer said...

I love a book that has the depth you're mentioning here and it is amazing how a novel changes and yet stays the same with a more mature set of eyes.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Wonderful to find new meaning in something. You probably intuited on some level then but now it is evident.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

I think I'd like to read this book.

Evan Lewis said...

Sounds pretty sophisticated for a juvenile of the time. Is that because it's a British juvenile?

Jack Cullen said...

I bought a copy of this book today from the secondhand section of Gay's The Word - so I'm assuming it has a gay plot too? Is the housemaster who destroys himself a sadistic homosexual? Many housemasters in public schools were. I'll have to wait until I'm the beach to find out!

Unknown said...

I too bought this book when I was young, when I was the same age as Benjamin. At the time it cost 3/6d. I have just reread it and found it very interesting, brilliant and enlightening. I found it a very honest book chock full of the complexities of human emotions, and was shocked at the exposure of public school rules as they were in the thirties. It was a relief to find two kind older characters in it, i.e. Neil and Benjamin's father while most of the figures in authority could not manage their repressed inclinations. I loved the chsracter of Mrs Lingard, who brought some light humour into the story.