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Henry Williamson: The Gold Falcon

A somewhat self-indulgent precursor to the Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight but then whatever Williamson was, he was always self-indulgent, both in his writing and in his personal life. The Williamson character in this book is Manfred Carew-Fiennes-Manfred. If that is not enough, he becomes Lord Cloudesley by the end of the book. Manfred, which is what everyone calls him, is a World War I hero – he was a pilot who shot down innumerable Germans, was nearly shot down himself by Baron von Richthofen and was decorated nine times”three times personally by the King”. He writes some very successful poetry and then an autobiography called A Farewell to Poetry, which is even more successful. He is a friend to the famous (thinly disguised portraits of most of the current British writers appear, including T. E. Lawrence, Ford Madox Ford, Victor Yeates and others). He is married to the long-suffering Ann and they have two sons, though one dies before the book starts. He is also having an affair with a German woman, Marlene. So when Ann becomes pregnant again, he does what any decent English Lord would do – he hightails it off to the USA to write his great novel. Of course, he has a couple of affairs on the way, including one with the fiancée of his host’s son, meets up again with Marlene, writes the great English novel, visits several speakeasies, is fascinated by but never meets Al Capone and dies a romantic death, after learning that his wife has had complications while giving birth.

So why read this book? As a precursor to the Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, it certainly has some interest and as a-young-writer-writing-the great-novel-and-getting-laid novel, it might be considered quaint but, as Williamson moves away from the English countryside to Manhattan, he is somewhat out of his depth.

Publishing history

First published 1933 by Faber & Faber