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DISTRACTIONS

Distractions

Distractions

by Stanley Middleton

Publisher Hutchinson

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About the book

The setting, as always, is the Midlands but it differs from most of his other work in that the central characters are not middle or lower middle class, but very well-to-do, even aristocratic. The novel opens with the funeral of Edward Fielding's first wife. She has died by her own hand after years of mental illness - the first of the distractions which are implied in the title. Edward, too, has behaved in unexpected ways.

He loved and cherished his wife for years, then abandoned her, and now her death leaves him free to marry Hilda, his mistress. She has escaped from a disastrous first marriage but now seems to have recovered from its effect. Beautiful and intelligent, she exerts a steadying influence on those around her, although the unexpected appearance of her first husband, a man capable of violent irrationality, shows just how vulnerable she is. The distractions of the title are of both kinds - not only madness but also amusement, recreation, that which takes the mind off trouble, and here Hilda plays an important part.

Everyone seems attracted to her, not least Elizabeth, wife of the ailing Earl of Marcroft. Elizabeth makes a determined set at Hilda and her rejection is the more traumatic as she is a masterful woman used to obedience. Most of the characters turn at one time or another to Hilda in the hope she will help them over their perplexities. This subtle and deeply felt book, Stanley Middleton's fifteenth, will add to his increasing reputation as on of our leading contemporary novelists.

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About the Author

Stanley Middleton

He was born in Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, in 1919 and educated at High Pavement School, Stanley Road, Nottingham, and later at University College Nottingham.

Middleton started writing while at university and in 1958 published A Short Answer. Alongside his work as an author, he taught English at High Pavement Grammar School for many years. In 1974, his novel Holiday won the Booker Prize. In 2008, Her Three Wise Men was published, his 44th novel and the last to be published during his lifetime.

Middleton was an accomplished organist, playing regularly at St Mark's Methodist Church on Ravensworth Road in Bulwell and stepping in to cover others, often at Mansfield Road Baptist Church in Nottingham. He was also a fine watercolourist and contributed his own artwork to the covers of the 1994 novel Catalysts and the festschrift Stanley Middleton At Eighty.

In 2006, a reporter for The Sunday Times sent the first chapters of Holiday to a number of publishers and literary agents as a journalistic stunt. Almost all rejected it.

The actor Peter Bowles was taught by Middleton while a pupil at High Pavement. In 1980 when Bowles was the subject of the popular TV programme This Is Your Life, Middleton appeared as a guest on the programme.

Middleton was married to Margaret Welch from 1951 until his death; the couple had two daughters, Penny and Sarah. Towards the end of his life, he suffered from cancer, and died in a nursing home on 25 July 2009, one week before his 90th birthday.

It has been revealed that Middleton refused an OBE in 1979. This came to light following a freedom of information request by the BBC. He did not feel that he should be honoured simply for doing what he regarded as his job

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