Mitch Cullin’s new novel imagines Holmes, in extreme old age, as witness to the birth of our own era — a time, as Cullin puts it, ”of lonely, searching souls.”
This is a novel about the fraying of reason under the stress of unanswerable emotional demands. Back home in Sussex, 14-year-old Roger, the housekeeper’s boy, has taken Holmes on as a surrogate father. Holmes likes the boy’s way with bees, and has encouraged the affection, in his stoic way. Added to these overlapping narratives is a third, this one in the form of an unfinished first-person tale written by Holmes concerning an old romantic infatuation, uncovered by Roger in Holmes’s study. Roger reads this story (and Holmes finishes writing it) before our eyes. Each one of these plots turns on Holmes’s reticence, his willful refusal to express what he feels in his heart; in each case, this decorum proves finally unsustainable, and the book ends in a swirl of intense, nearly animal, pain.