Lord, I Was Afraid (1947)
Synopsis: Practically indescribable! Luckily, the dust-jacket of my copy gives a fair summary: “This is not a Nigel Balchin novel in the ordinary sense. In fact it cannot be described technically as a novel at all. The subject is one on which the author has meditated and worked for ten years—the subject of his own generation, its nature, its faults, virtues, and direction if any. To say what he has to say Mr. Balchin has composed a kind of super-play, using the devices of the theatre on a scale that transcends the possibilities of any theatre. Seven characters represent seven different types of the generation that came to maturity after the 1914-18 war. They are tried out against many and various situations to see how they respond and what is in them.”
Context: An unpublished wartime revue called Active Service gave faint hints of what was to come.
Verdict: This is quite a daunting book to read for the first time, especially if one is, unlike Nigel Balchin, not blessed with the benefits of (i) a classical education and (ii) a detailed knowledge of the Second World War. However, parts of Lord, I Was Afraid are fairly accessible and even if one doesn’t read it from cover to cover, a number of the “scenes” (there are twenty-three in all) are enjoyable and rewarding.
Praise for Lord, I Was Afraid:
“One of the most ambitious and remarkable performances of 1947” — Peter Quennell, Daily Mail
“This strange, exciting book” — Harold Nicolson, Daily Telegraph
Availability: As Lord, I Was Afraid didn’t sell in large quantities (and never made it into paperback), copies are thinner on the ground than is the case with many of the author’s other novels. It should be possible to track down a copy on the Internet though.