When handsome 27-year-old composer Ralph first meets sprightly, cartwheel-performing Daphne, aged nine, at the Putney house of his musical collaborator, her father, he falls… in love. But that can’t be right: she’s a child. Better to say he falls in obsession, and this story of the 1970s explains how, by way of Ralph’s meticulously secretive and bespoke four-year courtship – these days called grooming – Daphne eventually falls in love/obsession too.
Those of us who lived through the 1970s know that so-called liberated thinking was pushed as a mark of virtue in those chaotic times. Daphne’s bohemian parents were hardly in loco but busy with their own romantic lives and projects. Rarely, if ever, has such a tale been told from the viewpoint of the child. Ralph, and Daphne’s best friend Jane, also take their turns in telling. Both as the events unfold and 40 years later from the perspective of today, when so much that then seemed free-spirited looks merely seedy and careless. There are surprises in store all the way through the narrative, as motivations and delusions are retrospectively reconsidered against backdrops ranging between the Greek islands and Putney.
Was Ralph genuinely wicked? At some points, the relationship seems so pure and lofty, in its own way… We, the readers, are manipulated as expertly as was Daphne . Unputdownable: a modern classic.