I read this after reading Morton's recent "Florence Gordon" and find this earlier novel to be the more poignant and well-executed. Both novels take as their protagonist an aging intellectual, and trace the relationship between the weathered writer and an eager young acolyte. But "Starting Out in the Evening" is a much more moving, substantive, heartfelt portrayal. The protagonist Leonard Schiller is a highly principled man who's completely out of step with the times, moving to the tune of his own drummer, as the proverb has it. His sole loyalty is to the craft of his writing, whether or not the writing sells or attains wider societal recognition, and whether or not his devotion to his craft comes at the expense of his responsibility to his daughter. Leonard's physique, mannerisms, passions, and memories are rendered much more vividly and skillfully than Florence Gordon, who by comparison is merely a cultural stereotype of the old feminist who doesn't care what people think and treats even her granddaughter in a brusque, arm's length manner. Morton's writing in "Starting Out in the Evening" is more inspired, ruminative, and even poetic. His portrayal of the peripheral characters in this earlier novel is also far more well-done than in Florence Gordon. It's clear that Morton has lots of sympathy with and respect and affection for his artistic hero Schiller, whereas his skeletal depiction of Florence Gordon is more detached and uninspired.
This novel resonates with intelligence, compassion, and humour. Leonard Schiller, a novelist in his early seventies, has a brief rekindling of his dying hopes for literary fame -- a young Master's student wants to write her thesis on his work. In doing so, she also hopes to spark her own literary career. Their relationship, and those with his daughter and his old friends, are tenderly drawn by Morton's graceful pen.
My favorite of the works of fiction I read in 2007.
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