(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A Room on the Hill opens a few days after the funeral of John Lestrade’s mother, Lena. It is the second death for John in a relatively short span of time; two years before, his best friend Stephen drowned while he stood helplessly on the beach, unable to muster the courage to attempt a rescue. Since then, John has been punishing himself by abandoning his plans for seven years of study in Canada, and he has rejected his mother’s sympathy so totally that he is now troubled by the idea that this may have contributed to her death.

On his way from the chapel through the town to his own place in some old barracks, which is indeed a “room on the hill,” John experiences a series of flashbacks. His recollections introduce the reader to the adventures of a group of young colored men and women on an island in the West Indies, united by their dreams and plans for a better future. In the case of the young men, this involves studying abroad in England or Canada; for their female companions, the future holds more limited prospects and the danger of losing their fiances, a fate that is shared by Miriam Dezauzay and Anne-Marie D’aubain.

Unable to sleep after his walk, John, through his memory, “exhume[s] corpses of his old self, probing them with the scalpel of his new awareness, lifting his motives delicately out of their integuments to look at them.” Into his mind comes his relationship with Rose, a young woman from Grenada. Because he had wanted to keep his freedom before leaving for university, he had rejected Rose after their second encounter and first lovemaking. This memory brings John’s thoughts to Stephen, who insisted that it was worth postponing education for one’s fiancee but not for anything else. Stephen himself was forced to stay in St. Lucia, since his father had squandered the savings that would have enabled him to become an engineer and leave something permanent behind him.

With the arrival of...

(The entire section is 801 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Ravenscroft, Arthur. “Garth St. Omer,” in A Guide to Twentieth Century Literature in English, 1983.

The Times Literary Supplement. Review. March 7, 1968, p. 221.