I can’t remember why we were talking about it, maybe we heard him mentioned on the radio, but apropos of something negligible I suddenly said that I had once seen Michael Ball on stage in London and his voice live was incredible. It was many years ago and was a trip organised for other staff by a teacher at the school where I worked. The show was ‘Aspects of Love’, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart, based on a novella by David Garnett. The most famous song from it is ‘Love Changes Everything’. We had a great trip and I enjoyed it very much – apart from the musical – I thought it was dreadful and so boring! The only memorable song was the most famous one, Michael Ball was excellent but everyone else seemed wooden and I found the plot distasteful.
Having mentioned the musical I’d been to, I commented that I had read other stories by David Garnett and the one I most vividly remember was ‘Lady into Fox’. I read it when I was in my teens and although it seemed really weird (which it is) it did make a big impression on me and I’ve often thought about it since, but never reread it. Garnett was born in 1892 in Brighton, and was a member of the Bloomsbury Group – a quick look at the entry about him in Wikipedia will give you the outline of his strange life. He wrote ‘Lady into Fox’ in 1922, and was the first novel he wrote under his own name and is about a woman who becomes a fox – exactly that! It’s a strange and rather tragic story as the poor lady is killed during a fox hunt. It was one of the first novels I read which didn’t have a happy ending – or at least an ending where the main characters found some sort of resolution if not contentment – but to have a wife who has become fox and given birth to cubs torn to pieces, her husband injured as he tries to rescue her… well, that was a new reading experience for me.
This type of fantasy work was maybe the first of its kind, where something fantastical occurs within normal everyday life. I was reminded of it when I read an amazing modern book, ‘Beast’ By Chris Speck which I have written about here. I’m not sure I have the skill to write about anything like that, although I did have my own beast, the Greaty Beast in a short novel I wrote for children, The Story of Rufus Redmayne. David Garnett had a long and productive life, and died in 1988 in France in Montcuq, where a friend of mine lives for part of the year.