Marina Warner

In a Dark Wood


New edition published 1992 by Vintage

In A Dark Wood tells the story of two brothers, both brought up in China and now approaching the end of their careers. Gabriel Namier, a Jesuit priest, is working on the life of Andrew da Rocha, SJ, astronomer and scientist, who recorded in his diaries his life at court with the emperor k’ang-hsi during the mission to China at the turn of the century. As Gabriel uncovers Andrew’s surrender to Chinese thought, he is himself plunged deeper into his own doubts. For the priest has fallen in love with aboy, and is tormented both by his inability to express himself and by his growing disbelief in himself as a man of God.

His brother Jerome Namier, disappointed in his early promise, has been over-shadowed by the younger Gabriel all his life. When the finances of the journal he edits – the London Review of Books – come under scrutiny, he finds himself the centre of a serious scandal. As his professional life collapses, his brother ignores him, his wife scorns him, and his oldest friend abandons him.

Against a vividly drawn background ranging through China, Sicily and London, we meet other characters whose lives are touched by the Namier brothers: Paula, Jerome’s daughter, who seeks a close friendship with her uncle Gabriel and eventually reaches him – but not in a way she could have foreseen; Oliver Summers, the object of Gabriel’s passion; and Maria Pia the young visionary the priest meets in Sicily. The destruction of Gabriel Namier through love and doubt is the theme of this novel, but underneath it lies the story of Jerome’s struggle with a lifelong sense of failure.

First published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977