Playing Possum by Kevin Davey is an exuberant modernist reminder that T S Eliot was a fan of detective fiction, Charlie Chaplin and the music hall.
Fleeing from a violent incident in London in 1922, pursued by police, Tom spends a night in the Duke of Cumberland Hotel in Whitstable. Demobilised soldiers hold a meeting below his window and a silent movie is being shot on the seafront. Davey draws on local history and literature, songs, films and artwork from the period to produce a novel Eliot himself would have enjoyed.
‘The year is 1922, the same year The Waste Land was published. That poem is famously made up of snippets of overheard conversation and found quotations and there is a large slice of this in Playing Possum too. Part of the pleasure for students of Eliot will be in tracing the references. The novel is full of the most astonishing and vivid writing. It’s almost as if the author is channelling the spirit of 1922 directly on to the page, as if he’s fashioned a time telescope through which we can look in on the scene 90 years earlier.’
C J STONE