A Sunset Touch by Howard Spring (1953)

Review by Mary P:

Roger Menheniot, a bank clerk of modest means, lives in a boarding house in London, living in a fantasy world. He believes himself to be the last of the Menheniots and dreams of living in Rosemullion, the family seat in Cornwall. He shuns the world of 1944 London, his fellow workers and neighbours, and cocoons himself in the 18th century world. He saves his meagre wages to furnish his one bedroom in style. By chance he meets Philip, who shares his name. Philip is an American and is stationed at the ancestral home during the war. When he dies he leaves money to Roger with which he fulfils his dream, and buys Rosemullion.

The second part of the novel deals with Roger’s transformation. For the first time he becomes involved in the lives of the people living in the nearby village, and he slowly allows sex and romance to enter his life. The novel explores what happens as he gradually realises that what he has longed for and dreamt of all his life is not enough.

A Sunset Touch is an easy read and Howard Spring is an adept storyteller. He paints a believable picture of a character who has shut himself off from the world through an obsession with family history. Roger Menheniot is self absorbed and unworldly, a rather unattractive character, and perhaps this is a problem in fully engaging the reader with his story.

The second half of the novel proves to be less believable. When we the reader are taken to a Cornish village we are introduced to larger than life characters who seem to have strayed out of ‘Cold Comfort Farm’, and bring an unintended comic element to the tale.

Roger’s transformation from a 45-year-old virgin comes via his relationships with Bella and Kitty. I remain unconvinced by this change, and indeed by the plot device  (arsenic poisoning) that disposes of Bella. The melodramatic tone seems out of place. After this roller coaster ride the novel ends with a sentimental happy ending. Disappointing – the central theme of a man whose wishes come true, and then finds they fail to bring him the fulfilment he dreamt of, is an interesting idea for a novel.

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