The fictional duke at the heart of the book is a wealthy hypochondriac who, for reasons of his own, commissions the building of a series of tunnels under his vast estate so that he can scoot about the place and pop up here and there without anyone knowing.
The novel takes the form of a journal written by the duke and punctuated by occasional ‘accounts’ by some of the secondary characters.
The diary covers a period of six wintery months, in which the duke’s eccentricity gradually slips towards madness. His days are an endless round of rumination, he becomes increasingly frustrated by his aging body’s limitations and obsessively monitors his internal goings-on. As the story unfolds, he finds himself haunted by some childhood memory – a memory which slowly gains clarity but with it, a terrible potency.
Something is wrong with him. He tries all sorts of remedies – becoming ever more extreme. His valet, Clement, his housekeeper, Mrs Pledger and the Reverend Mellor do their best to help him and protect him, but whatever it is that’s troubling him seems bound to have the last say.
All of which makes it sound like a right boring book. But, trust me, it’s not