The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes

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The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: A novel concentrating between the war years period. We see-saw between England and Germany as the central character, Augustine travels between the two countries telling his own story.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: May 2011
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1848879782

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The front cover bears an evocative snowy scene while the back cover says that this book In scope and ambition challenges War And Peace. Well, I read the latter a good number of years ago so I was keen to get started with this book. The Fox In The Attic was first published in 1961 and has been out of print for nearly 20 years. And coincidentally, I have Hans Fallada's Alone In Berlin (also mentioned on the book cover) in my 'to read' pile. There is fulsome praise for Hughes on both sides of the Atlantic so I'm very impressed indeed before I've even opened the book. I'm thinking I'm in for a terrific treat.

The novel opens with a scene set to grab the reader's attention: a young girl has been found dead somewhere on the Welsh coast. And straight away I'm aware of Hughes' particular writing style. Fluid with proper sentences. It all has a traditional feel which I liked. Then we cut fairly briskly to the young Augustine who's rattling around in some pile. Due to the fallen in the First World War, many heirs did not return to England to take their rightful (I'm getting into the language, you'll notice) place in the family dynasty.

As the story develops it's evident that Hughes has an educated and intelligent style of writing. He'll mention names at the drop of a hat and throw out quotations, expecting his readers to know exactly what he's talking about. His descriptions are also fulsome and very detailed. For example, right at the beginning of the novel he goes into lengthy detail about Augustine's ancestors and other family members. We know it's 1923 and times are changing. But not everyone is adapting.

We meet several members of Augustine's current family, both young and not so young. And here again Hughes' descriptive voice cuts in - whether it's about a walk in a London park or simply the innocent games that young people play to amuse themselves, it's here in spades. It certainly serves to give the readers a flavour of London at that time as well as a peek at the upstairs/downstairs ways of life. But at times, I felt all this a little laborious and also rather self-indulgent.

The second part of the novel sees Augustine in Germany visiting family. He seems enthralled by all he sees and he also likes the German people. He appreciates that they are very different from the English. But is that in a good way or in a bad way? And as you might expect, there's plenty of pages given over to the war just past - and also to a certain man called Hitler. (The Acknowledgements at the end go into greater detail). A liberal (no pun intended) dose of politics is also included, both British and German.

Even allowing for the fact that this book was written and published around 50 years ago, the language used could be described as twee and even a little archaic. I found that on the whole, it didn't have enough charm for me to engage fully nor did it have the quality of some of our best-loved and best-known traditional storytellers. And so therefore, I was disappointed somewhat. I was not expecting to be disappointed. I wanted to love this book - but sadly, I didn't. This is a meaty novel packed with text on each page. For me, well, I was a little under-whelmed given all the fuss over this book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If the idea of this book appeals then try All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky.

Buy The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes at

Buy The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes at


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Duncan Hunter said:

This review was spot on! I don't like to feel irritated reading a book but I did with this one. (And NYRB recommends are usually excellent). I felt that Hughes the author was always in my face. At one point he mentions "our Lothar and Fritz and Willi.." - a sort of "here I am again, I'm in charge". His style is, indeed, somewhat archaic, though he never actually stoops to "Dear Reader" Yes, some fine writing certainly but again a little bit too much; certainly self-indulgent, as Louise Laurie describes it, and certainly twee in places. Hughes doesn't wear his erudition lightly and shovels it on in spadefuls. A good story but rather in need of serious pruning. I found the authorial jumping in and out all a bit too clever by half.

Duncan Hunter

Hong Kong