15 March 2011
Book Review: This Secret Garden by Justin Cartwright
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?