3 thoughts on “The January Estate — Charles Wilkinson


    “Each response is a fresh encounter with a text yielding multiple readings.”

    This is surely Wilkinson’s major work to date; it is absolutely perfect as a palimpsest in every way. Uncanny, funny, intrinsically human, poignant, potentially tragic, with bumptious and sad teachers in the school alike, and what about the headmaster (!), and fundamentally as well as superficially nostalgic (at least for me.) If I tell you too much about the new teacher called Strang in this school, or about the ever-locked cupboard in his classroom, the scholarship groups, the hybrid architecture of the school itself, and the two staff rooms, one full of smoke and squadron leaders and wing commanders as some sort of permanent supply teachers… well, if I told you more than just that scratching above of the surface below its sky, grounded by fustian poetry, or up there aloft with whatever being aloft means, that would spoil this undoubted Wilkinson classic for you. So I won’t. You just need to unlock its cupboards and schoolrooms for yourself.

  2. from a palimpsest of sky and ground, to one of sea and garden…


    “…at the very instant he felt an elbow rap his ribs.”

    If the previous story was a major Wilkinson, this is genuinely a major story by anyone. It affected me so deeply. The head side of the coin represented by the two stories in this handleable booklet with pungent cover to keep ever in your pocket for future reference, the same pocket in which one used to keep pocket money… this second story starting with a different school, where Thomas Wall, our once young protagonist, attended, a boarding school, with an insidiously ever-pervasive Thane Brooks in the same dormitory, Thane who had a sleepy brother there, too, the brother who was, unlike Thane, destined to go into business with sleeping pills. We need no pills to sleep, perchance to dream of the Le Grand Meaulnes, Lost Domain-type estate house that Thomas saw intermittently in his life, and Thane eventually usurped the equally pervasive Janitor and had the key, not to the locked cupboard on the other side of the coin, but to the door to this house, the house that was once like a film frontage, and the front door leading to either a sea or a garden at the back. But what of the green bird? And what of the happening at the earlier boarding school that I dare not tell you about for fear of spoiling its powerful effect upon you. It is the strongest scene I think I have read in any story. All this with an undercurrent of life passing by (Thomas’s parents dying as parents should), and much more I have not told you about or I have myself missed. But not forgetting, of course, Thomas’s going into trust-trackers, as I once did, which makes me think of my own date with birth on a mentally, if not actually, mid-winter day in a January of yore, an ‘eternal January’, a January’s static estate duty. A truly great story with its own head of bespoke duty to whoever reads it. This is not me succumbing to some passing passion of the reading moment. It just is and will be.


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