This remarkable novel, suppressed in 1957 and published by Dalkey Archive 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. Nicholas Mosley, who knew Charteris at school, tells us that the author of The Tide is Right “in his novels . . . tried to describe the complexity of changing attitudes of class-conscious Britain from the inside . . . he wrote not only of the absurdities and irrelevances typical of the British aristocracy but also of the resilience, the earthiness and even the ruthlessness that would enable it in a modified form to survive.”
Charteris deserves to be compared to Waugh, especially in A Handful of Dust—the ironies of primogeniture or high jinks in high places—and The Tide is Right should revive his reputation as one of the most significant of postwar British novelists.