15 March 2011

Book Review: This Secret Garden by Justin Cartwright

To quote Simon T. completely out of context: "Meh".

I bought this memoir of Oxford because, well, c'mon, it was about Oxford and because the edition could not be cuter. Plus I have read about 3 or 4 of the other titles in this "The Writer and the City" series. I had never heard of Justin "One of the finest novelists currently at work" Cartwright. He may indeed write amazing novels but after reading this somewhat tedious memoir I am not so sure. I wonder if one could interpret that quote from the Guardian quite literally by defining the word "currently" very narrowly as the exact second the quote was written. How the Guardian writer knew that Cartwright was working at that exact moment, I don't know.

I started off liking this memoir but then he seemed to go on about Oxford folk I had never heard of, which wouldn't necessarily be off-putting, but he didn't make it interesting enough for me to care. I think this might be a better read for someone who has studied at Oxford. He says next to nothing about the city of Oxford.

I have many other quibbles with this book, but I think the biggest problem happens when Cartwright goes on a bit about the Brideshead myth. I understand the reference to the wonderful Evelyn Waugh book but then Cartwright makes a fatal error. He refers to the fictional Lord Sebastian Flyte's teddy bear as "Algernon". Algernon?! Now anyone worth their salt knows that Sebastian's bear's name was Aloysius. I mean come on.

Cartwright, game over.

One more thing, why the title This Secret Garden? I mean I understand why he would want to call it that, but he didn't think it sounded too much like another book? Was he hoping someone might confuse it with The Secret Garden?


  1. this sounds like a book for someone in the oxford know but brideshead bit sounds great I love brideshead the book and tv series ,all the best stu

  2. That is a pretty big gaffe. Well, at least he endpapers are pretty.

  3. I give you an LOL for today's post.

  4. I saw a similar mistake somewhere and it made me think the same thing...game over.

    It is a nice edition though.

  5. This made me curious to find out a little more. I ran across this review of one of Cartwright's novels, which should settle the matter of whether you want to try one of his books once and for all -- NYT review of Cartwright novel. "Its target audience seems to be the kind of people who don’t get out much;" "[It] isn’t the worst novel ever written" and so forth.

  6. Getting 'Aloysius' wrong is sacrilege! A good enough reason to never read the book.
    Also, the title of the book seemed a little cheesy.

  7. Lol. Thanks for the "warning" - this is the sort of subject matter that would normally interest me.

  8. I like my little quotation! I'm wondering when I said it... about Heart of Darkness, maybe?

    I could equally well have said it about This Secret Garden - my response being much the same as yours, when I reviewed it. I did enjoy a little interview with Clive Hurst, as he happens to be my boss, but aside from that... if I had to read Isaiah Berlin's name one more time, I'd have used the book to papier-mache over my mouth and nose.

  9. Stu: Definitely for Oxford insiders.

    Karen: I know. Where was the editor?

    Julia: I bet Mr. Cartwright wouldn't be happy with his memoir getting an LOL. :)

    Ti: Pretty book indeed. I will keep until death.

    Steve: High praise indeed. How funny.

    Farheen: Even though I have read the book probably ten times, I still went back and double checked to make sure that the name Aloysius was not a changed for the brilliant 1980s tv series.

    Susan: Same here. Just came up short.

    Simon: You wrote it about Human Voices in relation to other Fitzgerald. It had its moments but overall a bit of a snoozer.

  10. Simon: That second sentence was about the Cartwright not the Fitzgerald.


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