A chance meeting has New Zealand writer Laszlo Winter thinking back to his time in London in the late 1950s. The Empire might be in a state of collapse, but for young 'colonials', England remains a mythical place that draws them from the farthest corners of the globe.
There was Australian Samantha Conlan, clever, desirable, hopelessly in love with married Jewish New Zealander Freddy Goldstein, who carried with him a dark history. Rajiv, an earnest young Indian at work on a study of Yeats and the Indian mind. The enigmatic Margot, whose bond with her athletic brother Mark troubled Laszlo in ways he didn't quite understand. Heather, the call girl with whom Laszlo exchanged lessons on Shakespeare for lessons in love.
The great writers of the time, and the details of their lives are recorded by Samantha in her idiosyncratic research project that she named her Secret History of Modernism. There was all of that and more, and then there was Laszlo, knocking blindly about among them, despairing at his academic prospects, and gradually realising that he was, would only ever be, a storyteller. Now, years later, from the other side of the world, the people seem to spring to life again, in this beguiling work by one of New Zealand's foremost writers.
Stead's writing is meticulous and elegant... The Secret History of Modernism is packed with interesting ideas and insights
The Secret History of Modernism is as subtle as Jane Austen and as fatalistic as Thomas Hardy. There is a profound sense of understanding and many truths... Readers must reach for this book with both hands
If this is not the best novel I've read this year, it has banished the memory of anything that came close... It reads like a dream