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Fakes and sleuths in a rogues galleryThe Hound in the Left-Hand Cornerby Giles WaterfieldReview 1499 pp273Giles Waterfields prize-winning first novel The Long Afternoon was an elegiac account of an English family in France between the First and Second World Wars His second marks a complete change The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner is a rumbustious and hugely entertaining satire about the world of museums in the age of New Labour where scholarship wilts and Mammon rulesThe action takes place over 24 hours in the Museum of English History or Brit as it has been trendily renamed Students of museum politics will enjoy figuring out which metropolitan institution it most closely resembles Waterfield has evasively placed it somewhere south of Waterloo well away from Tate ModernThe museum is in a state of controlled panic preparing for a dinner in its great hall in the presence of a royal personage - the grand opening of its latest blockbuster an exhibition simply called Elegance Its centrepiece is a little known painting by Gainsborough Lady St John as Puck the property of the museums chairman Sir Lewis Burslem a domineering property magnateThe chairmans running battles with the director Dr Auberon Booth - a dandyish figure risen brilliantly from humble origins - bring a collision of personalities and principles Beneath an increasingly brittle veneer of urbanity the anguished Booth hoping for an appointment to a more prestigious museum is appalled by the chairmans determination to launch an extension - to be called with stunning vapidity the Nowness of Now Indeed Booth is convinced that the extension dedicated to contemporary tat will eventually supplant the museum itselfThe action sweeps along in short episodes At its heart is the provenance of the Gainsborough The hound of the title appears as a detail in a portrait of a society lady of uncertain morals who was rusticated by an enraged husband soon after it was painted Afterwards it languished in a cupboard Sir Lewis
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