Grievous by H. S. Cross mid 80’s ff. Grievance takes place five years after Wilberforce in the same British boarding school, where intrigue and rule-breaking lurk behind the austere and punitive surface. John Grieves, the housemaster whose appearance so tantalized us in Wilberforce, now reappears with his character, foibles, addiction even, thoroughly fleshed out. The student who takes center stage is Thomas Gray Riding, whose academic talent and outward compliance mask a troubled soul longing for courtly adventure and love. The suffocating atmosphere of the school is relieved by letters Riding receives from Grieves’ goddaughter, Cordelia, and those Grieves receives from her ailing mother who is traveling the continent, encountering quacks, in search of a cure. Completing the love pentagon? hexagon? is Riding’s mother, who also writes to Grieves.
This is a long book with many twists. Sometimes it seems like a carnival carousel; with dizzying speed, we are jostled from one perspective to the next. At other times, this work seems structured like a spiral, beginning with a large cast and coiling inward until only the main players are left standing -- moving from a full complement of boys in all the forms, faculty and administration, and female friends to a small, intensely connected few.
Through the use of multiple points of view we perceive the texture and associative process of each character’s mind. In one passage, Grieves compares his sense of failure to a murder of crows. From this somewhat familiar phrase, he riffs, using lesser known expressions of animal clusterings as similes for his emotional state: “a sleuth of bears,” “a scold of jays,” “an unkindness of ravens.” Life goes on; Grieves dances with his goddaughter. He goes to a club with annoying peers. We forget about his amusing quirk of thought. Then, suddenly, he is struck by a reoccurring pain in his neck “like an ambush of tigers.”
The innermost point of the spiral is not the school, locus of most of the action, but rather a nearby cottage rented by Riding’s mother. The last three who wind up in this house seem to be groping to shape a social unit more primal and more natural than the boarding school. That would be the family.
I am overwhelmed by the ambitiousness of this project, by its complex, brooding original characters, by the intricacy of the web of secrets, hidden rivalries, and generous collaborations. As to the range of human emotions, love, loyalty, disappointment and grief (grief of course) abound.