The Secret River - C. H. B. (Clifford Henry Benn) KitchinLondon: Secker & Warburg, 1956, Hardback in Dust Wrapper.
Condition: Good — in Good Dust Wrapper. Plain paper dust wrapper a little edgeworn and faded with a nick to the head of the spine. A little age-toning to the edges of the text block. WH Smith library plate to the pastedown. Pages lightly age-tanned. Hinges weak.
From the cover: “Mr. Kitchin’s new full-scale novel spans the two and a half decades that opened in the grip of the ‘bright young things’ of the mid-twenties and closed in the blanket embrace of the Welfare State. It takes us from Bayswater, via the Sussex countryside, the South of France, the Welsh Marches, a seaside resort on the South Coast and a ‘garden-city’ in Hampshire, to the final climax in Waterloo Station. In its progress it gives us an unforgettable insight into that section of the rentier class for whom Mr. Chamberlain’s umbrella was the symbol of survival.
The Secret River is the story of Harriet Ashworth as a child, an adolescent and a young woman — of Harriet, and hardly less of her mother, vain, silly, snobbish and egocentric, yet not entirely unsympathetic
— whether she is aping a London hostess, a Lady of the Manor or the smart set on the Riviera, or flying desperately to ‘The Wilderness’ in search of safety from the bombs — and it is in her shadow that Harriet must live her life. She stays at her mother’s side from love, from filial duty and because she comes to realise more and more that without her presence her mother would drift rudderless to absolute disaster. She is a study in self-abnegation. Her friends — and she has some who are devoted to her
— can make their own lives, but she cannot. They can make love, but she has no more than a distant glimpse of it. Only in the closing section of the novel does opportunity beckon at last ; and very brilliantly does Mr. Kitchin describe her agonised reaction to the summons.
The Secret River is full of beautifully observed scenes that pin-point a class and a period. The dramatis personae are many and varied, and while we feel we have met them all before, we have never observed them with Mr. Kitchin’s penetrating eye. Yet it is Harriet and her mother who dominate the story. On the former — a complex blend of romantic idealism and intellectual emancipation — the author has bestowed his more subtle gifts. As a contrast, he has drawn the mother with bolder strokes, and many readers will find in her one of the outstanding characters in the fiction of our day.
Mr. Kitchia has long been known as a novelist of genuine feeling, possessed of a most felicitous siyic. In The Secret River his talents have broadened and reached magnificent fruition. “