After Such Kindness by Gaynor Arnold

‘She’s coming to life under my hands. . . She’s floating in the liquid, becoming more and more real.” So begins Arnold’s fictional re-telling of the friendship between Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell.

John Jameson, author, photographer, artist, scholar and don at Christ Church, is enchanted by the charming, receptive and lovely Daisy, ten-year-old daughter of his friend Daniel Baxter, a disturbed vicar.

Daisy, who feels excluded by her parents, is delighted by her new friend. Jameson makes her laugh with his stories of ‘a talking cat, a crying baby, a cruel nursemaid, a not-so-dead, hundreds of beetles, scarlet flamingos and the dons playing croquet. His playfulness with words and language and lead her “along the golden pathways of the imagination”.

Jameson knows his delicious child-friendships are transitory; Daisy will grow away from him and he will have to make do with ‘new Daisies’. Years later, Daisy becomes the wife of a kindly vicar. Unable to consummate the marriage, she turns to her diaries and photographs; they uncover the dreadful truth behind her childhood friendship. Told by different narrators — Daisy, Jameson and her parents — this is a fine successor to Arnold’s previous Booker and Orange long-listed debut Girl in a Blue Dress, a fictionalised account of the marriage of Charles Dickens.

Arnold’s latest novel is underpinned by her evocation of period, her sense of place, the changing nature of the relationships between men and women, the changes towards childhood and lost innocence, the upheavals within the Church of England and above all the disturbing and revolutionary ideas of Darwin and of Freud.