Books in Print

independent Australian bookselling since 1988

18 Jun 2009

The Lost Life by Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll’s The Lost Life follows the successful Miles Franklin Award-winning The Time We Have Taken. In this new novel Carroll leaves behind the familiar setting of Melbourne, taking the reader back in time to England in the year 1934.

Catherine and Daniel are young lovers from a town north of London. When first we meet them they are sneaking off together on a hot summer’s day to enjoy a swim in one of the pools within the walled gardens of ‘Burnt Norton’, a large country house that readers familiar with Eliot’s work will recognise as the title of the first poem from Four Quartets.

While in the gardens, the lovers witness a very private ‘ceremony’ between Miss Emily Hale, an American woman whose rented cottage Catherine has been hired to clean and the famous poet T.S. Eliot. The ceremony ends with the burial of a metal box in the flowerbed. The older lovers depart leaving Catherine and Daniel hidden in the bushes wondering at the import of what they have witnessed. Before Catherine can stop him, Daniel, known in the village for his mischievous pranks, leaps out of the bushes and digs up the metal tin. He does so for ‘a lark’ and as a sort of gift to Catherine. She is unimpressed despite her curiosity and orders him to return it to the flowerbed. However Daniel fails to do so before Miss Hale and Eliot return to find the ground disturbed and the box missing. Eliot immediately suspects his estranged wife of having a hand in the disappearance of the box (she is unwilling to admit the failure of her marriage and has taken to stalking him). The poet is furious and inconsolable and the incident leads him to depart from the village days later.

Read the rest of Simon's review here.