Matthew Dennison

Bookends: Tilling tales

Bookends: Tilling tales
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Several years ago, I listed as my literary heroes Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations and E. F. Benson’s Lucia. The latter was the more damaging admission. Lucia is an egotist of monstrous proportions, ruthlessly selfish and staggering in her snobbery. But she is also a life force and, in her flawed but thrusting glory, profoundly life-enhancing. Since her debut in 1920, Lucia has inspired her fair share of loathing — and a corresponding degree of ardour.

That ardour stimulated Tom Holt’s two Lucia sequels in the mid-Eighties, and now the second of Guy Fraser-Sampson’s Lucia forays, Lucia on Holiday (Elliott & Thompson, £7.99).

Holt’s Lucia novels worked by over-emphasising the role of Benson’s minor characters, thereby lessening the pressure on the author where Lucia herself was concerned. Fraser-Sampson’s first attempt, Major Benjy, adopted a similar course, with questionable success. In Lucia on Holiday, however, the spotlight falls more surely on our heroine (portrayed above by Geraldine McEwan in the Eighties ITV series). The results, for the most part, are extremely happy.

Fraser-Sampson lacks Benson’s lightness of touch and his genius for insinuation. He also demonstrates an overt complicity with his readers in acknowledging Lucia’s awfulness — which Benson never allowed himself to do. He would surely too have recoiled from Fraser-Sampson’s unambiguous presentation of Georgie’s sexuality. But this is an agreeable romp, with at least one treat for the Benson aficionado: passing mention of lady novelist Susan Leg, heroine of Secret Lives.