Read, Piers Paul 1941–
Read is an English author of both fiction and nonfiction. He is perhaps best known for Alive, his restrained account of what has been called the most arresting peacetime survival story yet told, the 1972 Andes air crash. He was the choice of the survivors to write their official story. (See also CLC, Vol. 4, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)
The severity of [The Upstart] is not immediately apparent. The opening chapters record the childhood and youth of a Yorkshire clergyman's son in a sharp but amusing way, so that the author might be congratulated on the "malicious" wit with which the boy's "agonies" of social embarrassment are presented. But, quite suddenly, words like "malice" and "agony" need to be used less lightly and loosely. The boy, Hilary Fletcher, might seem not unlike L. P. Hartley's Eustace as he diffidently tries to place his social position between the knowing children of the local aristocracy and the rough farmboys. Eventually, it becomes apparent that the boy has grown up monstrous. The calm, graceful prose which seemed so appropriate for a traditional social comedy about class is equally effective for describing young Fletcher's progress in joyless depravity. Finally he becomes a Roman Catholic, recognizes himself as evil, and repents. So it is, after all, rather like one of Hartley's novels—My Fellow-Devils, with its persuasive emphasis on Catholicism and evil….
[There is a] melodramatic sequence of events [that] takes up most of the book. It is so lurid that it could have been ludricrous, but there is a grim, simple intensity in the writing which makes the story acceptable as a serious representation of evil. The narrator persuades through the apparent objectivity of his presentation of himself: it is like the cold, factual-sounding account that the agnostic Winterman gave of the sins and penitence of the hero of Mr Read's Monk Dawson.
"Prodigal's Progress," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), September 7, 1973, p. 1017.