The Everlasting Sunday
In the winter of 1962, 17-year-old Radford is brought from London to Goodwin Manor, somewhere in the English Midlands. While we don’t know why Radford has been brought here, we learn that the manor is an institution for boys who have been “found by trouble”. He is taken to Teddy, the eccentric, kindly man in charge, who tells him practically nothing about the place, and who banishes another boy to the chicken coops to make room for him. Radford promptly gets swept up in the commotion of this lark as crowds of boys clear out the boy’s things and set them back up in the coops, and his first impression of the other residents, these marauding bodies and “sallow figures scoffing and competing”, is of a whirlwind of activity.
This episode sets the pattern for the rest of the novel: a series of misadventures and hijinks that Radford is party to without always understanding why, while he gradually allows himself to accept and even enjoy his new home.
Lukins richly evokes the hermetic world of teenage boys; the defensiveness, the unspoken rules, the vulnerability imperfectly concealed by all this. While we never learn their stories – one of the unspoken rules is that the past is never discussed – several of the boys come into focus, particularly Radford’s new best friend, West, as does Teddy, a man who is struggling with his own demons.
Told through the memories of a much older Radford, the tone is one of nostalgia for this strange and difficult time. The manor is portrayed as an enchanted place, one magically run with little to no oversight or routine, yet it is not the strangeness of the place but the way it is evoked that makes it feel less than real. Radford’s is a jaunty, lyrical, overegged voice, full of English schoolboy-isms and besotted nostalgia for these boys who are forever “conquering” staircases and “ricocheting” down halls. There is a fairytale quality to it, the winter itself narrates certain passages, and this threatens to overwhelm the reality of what is a harsh and at times brutal life.
Lukins, seemingly aware of the dangers inherent in this territory, has Radford address it directly: “The Manor was too much like something of a Boy’s Own story. All too Tom Brown and the neat perils of boarding school.” And he does, by the book’s end, push past this kind of caricature, almost despite the embellishments of his style. SH
UQP, 224pp, $29.95
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 10, 2018 as "Robert Lukins, The Everlasting Sunday". Subscribe here.