A Difficult Young Man by Martin Boyd


This is the second in the Langton quartet by Martin Boyd; the first is reviewed here. At this point the beloved Alice has died and the story focuses on Guy's brother Dominic and his difficult young life.

Guy, our narrator, often mentions the duque de Teba, an ancestor of his mother's, an alterboy-strangling Spanish priest. In describing his troublesome brother Dominic, he mentions that he inherited the passion of  that ancestor from many generations back. In addition he had a touch of the "nonconformist rectitude" learned from their unpleasant cousin Sarah. And then the sometimes inconvenient honor and wild generosity that cropped up from time to time. Even when Dominic was trying to do the right thing, he made trouble with the extended family and his immediate family would decamp to England or back to Australia.

There may be a little too much in this book about the repeated patterns of heredity, but after all it is one of its main themes. We find ourselves behaving like our parents or grandparents, and some habit of mind or physical trait which our friends imagine is exclusively our own, may come to us from a remote ancestor of whom we have never heard….It would be sheer nonsense to pretend that Dominic's make-up was not largely derived from his Spanish ancestry…

It must be noted that none of Dominic's brothers exhibited the traits of the Spanish ancestor.

When Guy and his family returned to Waterpark, the ancestral home in Britain, the current tenant moved to the Dower house. Colonel Rodgers planned to take the Australian family under his wing to make gentlemen of them. 

Although we [the Langton family] had been at Waterpark since A.D. 1184, a fact which both gratified and irritated him, he implied that we could not expect to be received by the county until we had shown ourselves civilized, by which he meant skilled in killing animals and completely ignorant of art and music.

Once again we hear about a remarkable cast of characters, notably Baba, a social climber married to one of Guy's uncles who blunders about causing trouble and Bert, the husband of Guy's Aunt Maysie, the only family member who actually makes money. The tales are told conversationally and with great wit.

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