Gary Dexter

Bookends: Not filthy enough

Bookends: Not filthy enough
Text settings

The Pursued (Penguin, £12.99) is a lost crime thriller by C. S. Forester, the author of the Hornblower novels. It was written in 1935, rediscovered in 2003 and is now published for the first time.

Marjorie, a suburban wife and mother, comes home after a ‘jaunt’ in ‘town’ to find her sister dead in the kitchen on page four It is said to be suicide, but we have doubts.

Towards the end of the book, Forester summarises the action: ‘It was a filthy business, a tale of lust and murder and revenge, unredeemed by any of the nobler qualities of mankind.’ Not a bad précis, though anyone who reads The Pursued hoping to have their jaded 21st-century palate tickled is likely to be disappointed. Veils aplenty are drawn over the actual business of lust, and what murder there is in the book is accomplished with a thud offstage.

Penguin accompanied the release with a note saying that in terms of explicitness The Pursued was ‘years ahead of its time’, but in fact there is more murder and lust in Zola or Dostoevsky. There are clichés by Forester and typos that got past Penguin, but there are also details that won’t leave the reader, particularly a description of corsets as worn in the years before the first world war: ‘When Mrs Clair was newly married it was only for gala occasions that a woman threaded coloured ribbons through slots in her underclothing.’ Sounds like a brig in full sail.