The earlier novels are charming, filled with longing and remarkable imagery, but it is in Denton Welch’s A Voice Through a Cloud that his style and way of viewing the world come together to extraordinary effect.
His narrator, highly autobiographical, is in hospital after a horrendous road accident, and prone to daydreams that extract him from the grimness of his surroundings and the tremendous pain he experiences. Here’s a passage I have read so very many times:
In one part of the garden, behind powdery orange walls, a dirty old gardener in leather clothes worked, turning up the damp earth in soft chocolate chunks, or picking dew-sprinkled cabbage leaves, which glinted and changed from purple to grey-green as if made of shot silk.
Out of doors my nostrils were always filled with the smell of humid earth and dank grass, and my heart with the pleasure-fear of seeing ghosts and apparitions. I would be led to explore other disused wings of the house, where dry-rot was turning the wainscot to dust, and where bird- and mouse-droppings broke the smoothness of the floor, making miniature mountains on a vast plain. In the corners of the rooms velvet bats hung upside-down, and whispering little gusts of wind, which were really evil powers and emanations, swept through the openings where doors had been brutally torn from their hinges. Spikes of wood still clung to the mangled brass. Smashed panels grinned hideously.