Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 14, 2023

Goodnight, Vivienne, Goodnight (2022, The Eliot Quartet #4), by Steven Carroll

With the publication of Goodnight, Vivienne, Goodnight, Steven Carroll brings to a close his Eliot Quartet based on characters from the life of the poet T S Eliot. This final novel focusses on the Vivienne, Eliot’s troubled first wife, the one who was said to be an hysteric and a harridan.  In real life TSE left the marriage and she ended up in an asylum, unvisited by TSE who was busy being famous in a way that few poets are.  In Carroll’s novel he is a celebrity, at a time when the word had barely been invented.

And Britain is at war with Germany.  It is July 1940 and the streets are sandbagged but the real horror of the Blitz is yet to come.  Into this impending chaos comes Vivienne, successfully making her escape from the asylum with the help of her sympathetic friend Louise Purdoy and George from the Lunacy Law Reform Society. Vivienne is in the hands of a covert network of people who engineer escapes from asylums so that the inmate can take advantage of an old law which offered the possibility of freedom to anyone who could break out and stay free for 30 days.  Louise Purdoy thinks that Vivienne is as sane as anybody else, and so she wants to help her.

Vivienne, of course, has to lie low, as any escapee does, but she doesn’t.  She likes to be out and about, as anyone does.  (I suspect that Carroll’s experience of Melbourne’s Lockdowns influenced her realistic yearning to escape being confined indoors.) Fatally, perhaps, she just can’t resist a TSE public appearance where he is to do a reading of ‘East Coker‘, (the second of his Four Quartets, published in real life in 1940.)

Vivienne turning up and creating a scene at a public appearance is exactly what TSE fears, and he has powerful friends.  She had been committed in the first place because of a public ‘episode’ involving a knife and hysterical rantings about TSE being beheaded.  Adding to the panic is a stabbing episode involving a Lord and his ex-wife.  So Detective Stephen Minter is assigned to find Vivienne ASAP.

Minter might be a fugitive too, of a sort.  His parents fled anti-Semitism in Australia, and he grew up in England.  They are secular Jews and have settled into English life well, but they (like Minter himself) are at risk of being interned as Aliens.  He has worked hard to assimilate, masking his accent and (in passages reminiscent of The Gift of Speed (2004) from Carroll’s Glenroy novels) becoming devoted to cricket. But just as TSE can’t quite shake off his Missouri origins, Minter retains slight traces of his past.  And just as TSE is not really part of the British Establishment, much as he would like to be, Minter isn’t really on their side.  He’s not sure that he wants to find Vivienne.  He’s not convinced that she is insane. But he does have an Englishman’s sense of duty…

So Minter interviews Louise, who he knows is lying; and Viv’s brother Maurice who’s impressed by Viv’s daring and wouldn’t tell even if he did know where she was. He goes to see TSE too, of course, and (an opinion influenced by TSE’s anti-Semitic poetry) doesn’t like him and his self-importance. TSE is much too busy with Being Important at Faber and Faber and with his new secretary who worships him.  None of this helps Minter with his search but he does get to meet Brigid Delaney at Faber’s reception desk. There’s a recklessness in the air which we’ve come across in other fiction of this period, and those romantics among us with suspicions about what Brigid’s Top Secret new job might be, hope that she will survive it.

(Minter, BTW, has survived his war service in Norway, but not unscathed.)

In a world gone mad, Goodnight Vivienne Goodnight asks what sanity is, and who gets to decide about that. If Vivienne has a mental illness, it’s not portrayed as a disability but rather as flamboyance and a refusal to accept being dumped unceremoniously out of TSE’s life.  The price of having her sanity confirmed is to conform, to be calm and serene, to conceal any anger or distress.

Like Emily Hale in real life and as portrayed in A New England Affair, both the real and the fictional Vivienne have claims to have been TSE’s muse.  He acknowledged this in real life when he said that their marriage produced the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land, though he did not mean it as a compliment.  At the conclusion of the novel Carroll acknowledges Lyndall Gordon’s imaginative and astute biographies of T S Eliot which may be of interest to those who wish to know more about him and his love triangle. But I would say, as I have of the other novels in Carroll’s quartet, that while there are allusions to give extra pleasure, a reader does not need to know anything about TSE or his poetry to enjoy Goodnight, Vivienne, Goodnight.

PS It was flattering to see that a snippet from my review of Year of the Beast has been included amongst the blurbers at the front of the book.

The Eliot Quartet, links go to my reviews:

  1.  The Eliot Quartet, links go to my reviews
    1. The Lost Life (2009)
    2. A World of Other People (2013)
    3. A New England Affair (2017)
    4. Goodnight, Vivienne, Goodnight (2022)

Author: Steven Carroll
Title: Goodnight, Vivienne, Goodnight (The Eliot Quartet #4)
Cover design: Lisa White
Publisher: Fourth Estate, (Harper Collins) 2022
ISBN: 9781460751114, pbk., 243 pages
Source: personal library, purchased from Ulysses Bookstore Hampton



  1. Enjoyed the first half of your post Lisa … then stopped as I’d love to read this. I’ve only read one so far and did enjoy it. Do you need to read them in order? My guess is perhaps not?


    • No, I don’t think you need to read them in order. They are self-contained, though you get resonances between them and of course TSE afficionados could pore over them for allusions.
      Carroll is such a brilliant writer!


      • Thanks Lisa … that’s great … I certainly enjoyed the one I read …


  2. I’ve not read this one yet. I really enjoyed the others, as I have enjoyed every book of Steven Carroll’s that I have read so far. Yes, he is a brilliant writer!


    • I would so love to read his early novels, but I have had no luck whatsoever in finding a copy. Not even on Kindle…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa, which of Steven Carroll’s early novels are you looking for? I could keep my eyes open …


        • That’s very good of you Jennifer. Wikipedia lists some early ones that are not part of any series, but he republished some with revisions and new titles. Which is an interesting thing to do, and I’d love to know the reason why.
          The ones I don’t have in either edition are:
          Remember Me, Jimmy James (1992). (This is the one I want most of all because it’s his debut.)
          The Love Song of Lucy McBride (1998) republished as Twilight in Venice (2008), also published as The Last Venetian.

          But I do have Momoko (1994) in its republished form as The Lovers’ Room (2007).

          On the day I wrote this review I looked at AbeBooks and Brotherhood Books, even Amazon for a kindle version, but no luck. But somebody, somewhere has them, and one day they will make their way to a secondhand bookstore and then I shall pounce!


          • I will keep my eyes open.


  3. In the bookshop this evening I saw in new releases a Biography of the Waste Land. I had a quick look at it but the size put me off. And now I don’t remember the author


  4. I wasn’t aware of this quartet. It sounds a really interesting exploration of TSE and Vivienne, and Minter very believable.


    • It’s a wonderful series. It brings TSE and his unhappy women to life, but the stories are partnered with the story of another couple that intersect with them in some way. And his writing is world class.

      Liked by 1 person

      • A bio of the poem? That’s something new.
        I wonder if Folio has ever produced a version with some wonderful illustrations they way they do.
        *pause, Google search*
        Ah yes, they did, a limited edition priced at $1500USD, and to add insult to injury, only available in the US and Canada so that even if a stray acquaintance left me a bequest, I couldn’t buy it.
        See, you can catch a glimpse of the illustrations.
        Now, *pout* just because I can’t have it, I want it.


  5. The Lost Life was my favourite of the four (I adored it – the cover treatment is vastly different to the other 3 too – thank goodness!) but this one may have been my second favourite.


    • It still surprises me that an author of the stature of Steven Carroll gets such shabby treatment when it comes to covers…
      I mean, honestly, if I didn’t know his name, and I saw the book in a bookshop, I’d write it off as dross from the Women’s Weekly Favourites collection.

      Liked by 1 person

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