THOMAS GAGE - Purchase

THIS WAS my second book.  I will never again write one as good.  It’s the story of a fleshy, middle-aged man, an amateur artist, a veteran of Waterloo, who is adored by all women except his wife.  He is sensitive to everything - the weather, colour, women’s clothes, hurtful remarks.  He loves his two children desperately and is negligent with money.

The period is 1850, the setting Norfolk, on England’s eastern seaboard.  The railways are pushing into the countryside.  Thomas detests them.  The old ways and a slow pace are what he loves.  It is his misfortune that his wife’s land is the only ground suitable for miles around for bridging a river.  This brings Thomas into contact with the modern era in the form of Julius Gooby, the railway promoter.  Gooby has to have this ground and this ground only for his railway scheme to succeed.  He persuades Thomas’s lawyer to join him. One thing leads to another, one disaster to the next.

Thomas Gage is my favourite.  His plight would waken me at three or four in the morning.  I really felt for this man.  The blurb-writer tried to conceal the fact that the story is a harrowing one but readers who’d enjoyed the rosy romance of The Temple of Optimism could smell it a mile off and kept their distance.  However, I note from the annual returns I get from the national Library Lending System that year in, year out, it is Tomas Gage that the ‘average’ reader asks for in preference to the Temple.  So perhaps he’ll get to join the sad classics yet.  With Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, one knows by the end of Chapter 1 as well as one knows one’s finger nails that they’re going to come a cropper.  But with Thomas, well, there’s always the chance of redemption.

© 2014 James Fleming - Damnable Iron

The most heartfelt review I had came from “A Customer”.  It appears on Amazon.  I have no idea who the writer is.

Gage is wonderous, more please, Mr Fleming.  This is the best work of historical fiction I have ever read.  One is immediately captivated by the daily life of Gage, farmer, artist and ex-soldier.  All these elements combine into a tale of pathos and humour with one of the most starkly haunting scenes of a man’s extreme reactions to an incredible series of events ever put into print.  I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. BRILLIANCE. BRILLIANCE.’

What the papers said...

‘Thomas’s sorry handled with great skill, as is the subtextual tension between red-cheeked English pastoralism and red-toothed English industrialism.  Fleming is a good all-rounder.  This is an old-fashioned sort of novel - well fashioned, well characterised, wryly and suavely written, and very welcome.’

(John Spurling in The Sunday Times)

‘The overriding impression is of a fertile imagination combining with a wealth of detailed knowledge to produce a work of considerable power.’

(Jem Poster in The Guardian)

‘Historical fiction got a shot in the arm when James Fleming began is marvellous.’

(The Independent on Sunday)

‘A puritanical view insists the novel must deal only with the contemporary world.  Well, goodbye War and Peace  and Middlemarch.  The value of an imagined past is that the novelist can make an extended metaphor for our time and show that our lives, like our forebears’, are every moment laying mines and traps into the future...Fleming’s experiment works very well indeed.’

(William Palmer in The Independent)

‘A personal tragedy that is as intricate and resounding as the prose that evokes it...Fleming’s subtle characterisation and beguiling descriptions of pre-industrial England make the poignancy of subsequent events all the sharper.  This sensitive exploration of a man’s mind offers further proof that Fleming is engaged in challenging the conventions of a genre that is open to charges of escapism.  There is no escape for Thomas Gage from the ruthlessness of greed and social progress.’

(“LP” in The Daily Telegraph)

‘Either Fleming is a brilliant historical novelist or he has travelled back in time, taking notes, spying on Gage, his family, friends and enemies to create this utterly convincing nineteenth-century portrait.’

(Sue Baker in Publishing News, who made it her Book of the Month.)

‘A bleak, gripping story, which has all the pessimism of a latterday Thomas Hardy.  One of Fleming’s strongest cards is his ability to surprise - repeatedly...The story merits a book twice as long.  Maybe that’s the best compliment to Fleming, as a writer.’

(Peter Kelley in the Eastern Daily Press)

‘Fleming is best of all, though,  at the moments of stress and elation....’

(Eric Anderson in The Spectator)


“One detects the hand of a master” The Sunday Telegraph