Hugo Charteris is a curious novelist, an odd man out among his generally predictable contemporaries. He is both original and banal, straightforward and complicated, topical and old-fashioned, derivative and original
Hugo Charteris, The Tide is Right. Dalkey Archive Press, 1992.
This remarkable novel, suppressed in 1957 and published here for the first time, is concerned with a day in the life of a stagnant, aristocratic Scottish family in the 1950s. As the family prepares for its annual Christmas dance, old rivalries and tensions flare as John Harling arrives to visit his sister Mary, who has married Duncan Mackean, next in line to inherit the estate left by Colin Mackean, dead two years now, but very much alive in the memory of the current family, presided over by Alan Mackean and his wife Augustine ("Tin"). By the end of this nerve-racking day, John tells his sister that "this life, which you lead here, is incestuous" and that her husband Duncan "is in love with things he should have left—long ago. Soil, place, family, the past—roots. . . . One must have courage to travel light today." That night, Duncan and Alan go out shooting; only one returns alive.
The reader, like a visitor, is an outsider who must rely on hints, looks, silences, and unspoken sentences to untangle the web of intrigue that binds this fascinating family. The Tide is Right should revive Charteris's reputation as one of the most significant of postwar British novelists.
"Hugo Charteris was among the most gifted British novelists of the postwar generation and The Tide is Right (which was never published in his lifetime) is one of his best books. He wrote, in my opinion, more truthfully about the upper classes than any of his contemporaries." - Francis Wyndham
"The Tide is Right is one of Charteris's more elusive books, with a wonderfully perceptive view of upper-class Scottish life. He is, I think, undoubtedly one of the most original, quirky, and shrewd explorers of the behaviour of the landed gentry among postwar English novelists, and at a time when prose was plain, his was idiosyncratically stylish, capable of suggesting comedy, tragedy, and romance with fastidious economy." - Alan Ross
"Charteris is a curious novelist, an odd man out among his generally predictable contemporaries. He is both original and banal, straightforward and complicated, topical and old-fashioned, derivative and original; a Greene obsessed with irrelevancies, a Firbank who reads the newspapers, an elusive, allusive, elliptical writer with the courage to tackle glaringly obvious problems head-on, and the ingenuity to stand them on their heads." - Francis Hope
"Charteris's novels have a flavour of melancholy which resolves itself into ironical comedy . . . a prevailing sense of a class, a society, decomposing . . . well written and well observed, in places very funny, full of shrewd comment on our times." - Malcolm Muggeridge
[The Tide is Right] bristles with acid witticimsm reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh. . . . In stylish, quirky, elliptical prose, British novelist Charteris cheerfully strips away upper-class pretensions, revealing the jealousies, hang-ups and latent violence lurking beneath the surface. . . . It's a fresh as if written yesterday." - Library Journal
This study of a dysfunctional upper-class Scottish family bristles with acid witticisms reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh. London journalist John Harling feels guilty for having encouraged his sister Mary to marry dissolute cad Duncan Mackean. Harling goes to visit the Mackean estate, but Christmas revelry turns to nightmare when Duncan and his aristocratic cousin Alan go out shooting, and only one returns alive. Haunting the clan is the memory of Alan's father, war hero Colin Mackean, dead two years, ``a sort of archetypal Highland god-figure.'' In stylish, quirky, elliptical and lyrically powerful prose, British novelist Charteris (1922-70) cheerfully strips away upper-class poses and pretensions, revealing the jealousies, hang-ups and latent violence lurking beneath the surface. This delectably sardonic novel was withdrawn from publication in 1957 in response to protests by the family on which the protagonists were said to be modeled. It's as fresh as if written yesterday. - Publishers Weekly
The first publication of a novel by the late British writer Charteris, suppressed in 1957 because of possible libel suits, is--if not exactly a celebration of the upper classes--a sympathetic look at an older, still resilient way of life answering only to its own rules. Set in the Scottish Highlands on the Mackean estate, where the new laird, Alan MacKean, is reluctantly following in his legendary father's footsteps, the story begins on the morning of the annual Christmas dance. Alan and his wife Augustine, who have no children of their own, must contend with Duncan, Alan's putative heir and the much beloved nephew of Alan's father. Duncan is a primitive, almost savage man who enjoys blood sports and fighting. He is also, as Alan notes, ""unemployable except possibly as a tractor driver."" Jealous of Alan and angry that he has not himself already inherited the estate, Duncan is always short of money, and on this day he comes round to ask for a loan to pay his taxes. Duncan's brother-in-law, John, also calls on Alan asking for help with Duncan, who appears to mistreat his wife and John's sister, Mary. Alan tells John how he saved Duncan the year before from imprisonment for poaching, and remarks that Duncan would have him, Alan, ""rubbed out"" immediately if he could. The dance begins, but only Duncan appears, in full Scottish regalia. Alan, whom he'd arranged to meet earlier near the river, has indeed finally been ""rubbed out."" A very quiet but no less violent family feud, where all is hinted at and little said or done directly. More an impressionistic picture of the way things are done among the gentry than a developed study of character and incident. Thin. - Kirkus Reviews
Hugo Charteris, The Indian summer of Gabriel Murray, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970.
After the ""monastic"" life of ships, Gabriel Murray, V.C., D.S.C., (R.N. Retd.) has further retired to a village in Scotland, as insulated from the human condition as he has ever been with only his dog, Kelpie, and his old mother. On a weekend shoot he meets Pandora, the wife of Lord Clanhatton and survivor of many love affairs of which the Lord is only too aware. In fact he decides to separate from her after all her ""little ploys"" and in the middle of her new romance with Murray's. During his Indian summer of 52 years he is strongly aroused (and given to embarrassing verbal exchanges by Mr. Charteris). But he is unable to commit himself in spite of Pandora's new freedom and their rendezvous at the Mill leads to two disasters--Kelpie's death and finally Pandora's suicide. The story proceeds rather soothingly in the semi-precious ""triste"" cultivation of interior reflections; what comes across most clearly are the dim features and gestures of middle-aged passion which is what Mr. Charteris intended for what little solace it affords. - Kirkus Reviews
Hugo Charteris, The Coat, Harcourt Brace & World, 1966.
Seemingly more genial, although essentially as sad, this book about a fourteen-year-old's experience during World War II appears on the same day of publication as Mr. Charteris' The Indian Summer of Gabriel Murray, another victim. Tim's strongest memory--he's fourteen now--is of the day in school when he was given a cup of cocoa by the matron along with the news of his mother's death. Now his father, Lord Bewick, is evacuating him to America in a coat with a million in jewels sewn in its lining. He is sent to Liverpool in the knowing hands of his stepmother Poppy. She's one of those they call Duckie, and she's glad to be relieved of her charge so that she can meet her lover. Tim is left with some lower class Liverpuddlians, leaves the coat in a pub, etc., etc. until Lord Bewick makes an explosive entry on the scene. . . . Neither book seems destined toward any happier fate than Tim's, or Gabriel Murray's--cocoa and bitters, 'arf and 'arf. - Kirkus Reviews
Hugo Charteris, A Share of the World, Michael Walmer, 2014.
Selected by Evelyn Waugh in the Sunday Times as the best first novel of 1953, and phenomenally praised by critics on its first publication, Hugo Charteris’ A Share of the World is one of the great lost novels. This is the first republication in a concerted programme of bringing all of Charteris' works back into print.This harrowing story of a man lost in his times, bewildered and anguished by both war and love, is a masterful portrayal of the human psyche at odds with itself.
John Grant has a short war. In a matter of three or four days his career as an officer in active service is over, after a disastrous sortie in the Italian campaign in which one of his men is let down terribly. Back home, reeling with dislocation and yearning, John seeks solace, absolution, a future, and most importantly, love. His troubled mind is taken up with the fascinating and elusive Jane Matlock, whose evasions and temptations lead him into what seems like a new assault-course, a strikingly different form of combat.
Although John’s story is astonishingly powerful and deeply moving, this extraordinary book has one more ace up its sleeve: Hugo Charteris’ intense, atmospheric, drily witty and emotionally searching style. In it there are ingredients which make for one of the great experiences of post-war British literature. A Share of the World burst onto the 1950s literary scene like a truth-incendiary, garnering the author plaudits from critics as disparate as Rosamond Lehmann
‘one of the most impressive first novels I have read for a long time’… - Francis Wyndham