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The Fatal Englishman

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Wildly's a classic' David Hare


About the Author

Sebastian Faulks was born in April 1953. Before becoming a full-time writer in 1991, he worked as a journalist. Sebastian Faulks's books include A Possible Life, Human Traces, On Green Dolphin Street, Engleby, Birdsong, A Week in December and Where My Heart Used to Beat.


In his first work of nonfiction, Faulks, a bestselling British novelist, takes up the brief but brilliant lives of three gifted countrymen who died young: painter Christopher Wood; fighter pilot Richard Hillary; and foreign correspondent Jeremy Wolfenden, considered the brightest mind of his generation. Through these tragic tales, Faulks explores the British character as it painfully evolved during the 20th century, spurring both the acceleration and fatal plunge of these vital young men. Wood, a part of the beau monde of 1920s Paris, drew praise from the likes of Picasso and Jean Cocteau. Hillary, who heroically returned to the skies after a fiery dogfight, won renown as a writer in his early 20s. While the sections on Wood and Hillary prove interesting, they are sometimes plodding, and shot through to distraction with background information. The final section on Wolfenden, however, is gripping. Great things were expected of the Eton and Oxford standout even as he became a reckless, alcoholic correspondent in Moscow, drawn into the world of Cold War espionage. While ambition, addiction and arrogance play destructive roles in these lives, homosexuality and the British attitude toward it is a recurring theme that Faulks suggests as a contributing factor. But the complaints here are mostly minor. The writing is solid, at times poetic, and the research thorough. In the end, Faulks manages to jolt the imagination with the tantalizing agony of what-might-have-been. 8 pages of photos not seen by PW.(May 12). Forecast: The recent release of the film version of Faulks's novel Charlotte Gray and of his new novel, On Green Dolphin Street, may help build a critical mass of readers. This triptych was an acclaimed bestseller across the pond, but with its English setting, a more modest fate seems likely. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"Flawless... Poetic... Superbly portrayed... [Faulks's] feat of phenomenal" * Daily Telegraph * "A mystery story of rare narrative power" * Financial Times * "Sebastian Faulks is a master at switching on the emotions of the reader... The spare narrative hides a commitment to his subject which pulls you in and leaves you gasping for those lost lives" -- Brian Masters * Mail on Sunday * "Compelling and stunningly written" * The Times * "Faulks is a prodigiously talented writer" * New York Times *

Fans of novelist Faulks's evocative depictions of wartime heroism (e.g., Charlotte Gray) will embrace his first venture into biography, a study of three brilliant yet mortally flawed men who lived on either side of the World War II era. Working in chronological order, Faulks first sketches the life of artist Christopher "Kit" Wood. Wood's ambition to become a great painter led him to Paris in the 1920s, where charm and circumstance placed him in the company of cultural giants like Picasso and Cocteau. In a profile of Royal Air Force ace Richard Hillary, Faulks ably changes gears as he describes a man who personified the casual fatalism of a spitfire pilot. Faulks finishes with Jeremy Wolfenden, a proud homosexual and dazzlingly intelligent journalist ensnared in Cold War blackmail and spy games. Of course, as the title informs us, these men are all doomed to an early death. There is nothing romantic about killing yourself with drugs, drink, or daredevilry, yet Faulks is able to captivate with his meticulous, caring treatment of these three who died on the cusp of greatness. Recommended for all public and academic libraries. Gail Benjafield, St. Catharines P.L., Ont. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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