Another winner. Charles nails the Christie-esque "mystery/house party" set up, though this is an oddly dark story about some truly ugly people. I loved both leads--I want to say especially Daniel, who felt both recognizable and also really original, but I thought Archie was wonderful too. To an unusual degree, each man illuminates the other on a fundamental level. They are very different but neither is as fully realized, romantically or thematically, without the other.
You see this in Archie's very funny but also poignant attempts at confronting Daniel's "Fragmentalist" verse (which doesn't even rhyme properly!) Everything to do with Daniel's poetry was surprisingly multilayered and revealing.
"There were vivid images, but they were extraordinary ones, not poetic at all in the way Curtis vaguely felt poetry should be, with trumpets or mountains or daffodils. These poems were full of broken glass and water-which was not clean water-and scaly things that moved in the dark."
The contrast between the Wordsworthian daffodils and scaly things in (not clean!) water was priceless. The part where Archie stops the other men from mocking Daniel's verse was one of those quiet moments of true heroism that really defines Archie's character. And in truth, his attempts to make sense of modern verse like Daniel's can serve as a stand-in for the experiences of a generation of people who could no longer exist within the comforting moral certitudes of the previous century.
And then of course, there's Daniel, whose religion, class background, and sexuality mean that he saw through those illusions and empty certitudes--probably starting when he was about four years old. (It's a brilliant, potent touch that he's the son of a locksmith). He's a great picture of the kind of mind and perspective that brought us Modernism, but the frequent references to suicide in the story remind us how lonely and wretched that alienation could sometimes be. It's refreshing and heartening to find that character occupying the main role in an old-fashioned romance, with heroic rescues, love and, of course, happy-ever-afters.
I'm teasing out a few of these themes because I used to teach this subject, but I don't want to imply that there is anything ponderous or pretentious in the literary allusions. They're built into the characters and plot in the most natural, understated way.
There's plenty more I would like to praise here, but I'll ring off. Bottom line: this is a home run. Read it. It's great.