Uncle Stephen – Forrest Reid

USt(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Forrest Reid (1875- 1947) was an Irish novelist, literary critic and translator. He was, a leading pre-war British novelist of boyhood. He was influenced by the novelist E. M. Forster, who used to visit him but he was repelled by Forster’s Maurice. He has been labelled ‘the first Ulster novelist of European stature’, and comparisons have been drawn between his own coming of age novel of Protestant Belfast, Following Darkness  and James Joyce’s novel about growing up in Catholic Dublin, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Reid strongly disapproved of homosexual acts (despite his being gay, he was full of self-loathing) and, even more so, of men who ‘interfered with’ boys.

A supernatural novel about Tom Barber, an orphaned boy in search of the mysterious uncle he has never met, and about whom there is a hint of scandal. The story of ‘Uncle Stephen’ came to Reid in a dream, and the dreamlike evocation of the Ulster countryside in which it is set.

It’s the first of a trilogy which goes backwards in time. In this book, Tom is 16.

The uncle is a recluse who is reputed to dabble in black magic.

Unathletic, interested in books and the beauty of nature, Tom is like many a sensitive child in literature (and life).  What sets him apart is that the people he encounters are not the unfeeling ogres of such stories.  Tom Barber is not a radiant spark hidden under a bushel, but a human being, as responsible as anyone else for his difficulty in relating to the mass of humanity.  His interactions with those who can’t understand him ring true, and the range of Reid’s sympathy, like Tom’s, includes many characters lesser writers would dismiss or stereotype.  Uncle Stephen is not primarily a psychological novel, but it deftly captures the complexity of human relationships

Quotations:

Chequered bands of golden fire splashed on the moss-dark sward.  A stilled loveliness breathed its innocent spell.  Then suddenly a hare bounded across the path, and the trilled liquid pipings of hidden thrush and blackbird broke on his ears like the awakening of life.  The music came to him in curves of sound.  All the beauty he loved best had this curving pattern, came to him thus, so that even the rounding of a leaf or the melting line of a young human body impressed itself upon him as a kind of music.  The avenue turned, widened, a house was there.

He could not remember the rest of the story, but he knew everybody had been happy because nobody had asked questions…. The earth might be a kind of heaven!  It wasn’t really impossible.  Happiness depended on kindness and understanding and– and– on not insisting that everybody should have the same feelings and thoughts….

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