Hal Hlavinka at The Quarterly Conversation:
For Bedford, histories that start in the parlor room can only end in the street. To illustrate the public temperament surrounding the novel’s scandals, Bedford provides unmarked fragments of dialogue, pulled, so it seems, from the cafés, the sitting rooms, and the street corners. Some are clearly from on high. When Eduard’s wife, Sarah, promises never to pay another of her husband’s debts, two voices muse: “She might have done it less subtly.” / “This kind of thing can only be done in that way or not at all.” / “Then it cannot be done at all.” Others, from on low. When the Felden Scandal erupts, so do the lower classes: “Ourtaxes.” / “That’s right.” / “Our savings.” / “Hear, hear!” / “The working man’s pence.” / “That’s where they go!” / “Lunatics in luxury.” And anti-Semitism: “Did you see—Jews got their fingers in it too.” / “Whenever there is something rotten in the state of Denmark . . . ” Like the Dreyfus Affair in Proust, the Felden Scandal occasions a glimpse into the larger social context beyond our principals; unlike Proust, Bedford knows where the sentiments are headed—where and when and how the casual and mocking anti-Semitism turns from words into actions.
A Legacy doesn’t find answers to the postwar era’s questions; to be fair, few books do and none conclusively. Rather, Bedford’s novel shows that the roots of our evils—our social evils, our political evils—are not just in decisions made in bunkers or boardrooms, but in kitchens and bedrooms as well. And they don’t start as evils, perhaps. Death might begin as a disagreement over dinner. That’s putting it lightly, but all histories are linked. As Sarah notes, “Crisis? There are no crises. It’s all a chain, a long chain.”