MARY VAUGHAN looks at the latest fiction THE ITALIAN GIRL, by Iris Murdoch. (Chatto and Windus. 21s.).
THE SCHOLARMAN, by Q. R. Dathorne. (Cassell. 16s.),
A CHILD POSSESSED, by R. C. Hutchinson. (Geoffrey Liles, 215.). RUCH a brouhaha has been made about Miss Murdoch's previous works that with each new hook one feels desperately: "This time maybe I will feel that all the fuss is justified." And this tirne I con 10/6 scientiously set out to appredate the huge. cloudy symbols of her incestuous, adulterous and perverted haxagon. A
triangle would be far too naive for Miss Murdoch.
Once again 1 can only feel complete disgust and dissatisfaction with this loveless length of academic prose. Far and away the most telling piece of symholism—and I doubt that Miss Murdoch meant it to he so—was the nocturnal sortie of the macabre Elsa to watch the worms dance.
The hook isn't even as lively as such a dance, but a writhing, squirming. slimy noend des viperes. The seven characters thus enknotted twitch galvanically through their venomous affairs, real, intended or pretended. and are deeply obsessed with their own feelings, sufferings and nebulous aspirations.
And yet it would be insensitive impertinence to write Miss Murdoch off merely as a raker of symbolical muck. She can and does often write with genius in her choice of language and in the vivid pictures she so economically paints. and certainly she feels neither scorn nor dislike of the human race in generel—as I was forcibly assured recently by someone who knew of her work among refugees.
She must just bc one of my literary Doctor Fells. I will be more than grateful if her next book gives me the opportunity of changing my mind.
A pungently-flavoured antidote to complicated and sophisticated nastiness is provided by The Scholarman, a wonderfully enjoyable story of a West Indian leeturer in English in a West African university, as is the author himself, with Independence Day hanging over the academic community like a sombre cloud with a very tarnished silver lining.
Symbolism is part of the pattern here too but as an optional extra, if not always (especially in the musical and poetic prologue and the horrific epilogue) with complete clarification. There are some lovely and lively descriptions and incidents and much hilarious, but completely credible fun.
Notably the lecture-cum-seminar on the symbolism of "Mary had a little lamb"; Doctor Wonderful, would-be medical student and successful and opportunist witch doctor who always drives sideways because it's safer if there's an accident; a sheet-burning incident which the scholarman (referred to by the locals with no evil intent as "the universal lecherer") carries off with much more gusto than did Lucky Jim in a similar fiasco. And it is pleasing to hear Anonymous identified as "an old Imperialist English poet". There is a stiff marital dialogue to which Silence plays a living and sentient third party.
These are only some of the plums from a very satisfying pie, and Mr. Dathorne is obviously a born and gifted writer.
So also is R. C. Hutchinson, whose A Child Possessed is a deeply moving story without any trace of sentimentality about a father's love of, and complete care for an idiot daughter of repellant appearance and unpleasant habits. He is an expatriate Pole working as a lorry driver in Marseille and Provence. himself an ex-prisoner who dreads solitude.
He is desperately aware of his child's imprisonment and solitude and feels that "her title to my des otion is simply that she suffers".
He deliberately sets himself to enter the child's lost, unmapped world, aware of the gamble he is taking in removing her from the care of experts to share the cabin of his lorry and the company of his friends with him. There is a lovely passage where. as the child grotesquely sleeps, he focuses his eyes to smallness to try and see the circumscribed world she inhabits.
There is a dramatic argument among a group of his associutes about the right to life of the "useless" child and, in 'contrast, her complete acceptance by a group of bowls-playing friends, though this ends in inforseen disaster.
The hook. is, like the father
himself, a model of charity, clarity, humour and good humour and there is far more treasure in it than I have briefly and inadequately outlined. It is a love story of real beauty.
Back to symbols with Meriol Trevor's The Midsummer Maze (Macmillan, 155.) which is, I think, intended for rather mysticallyminded children, but was not on my wavelength, though as competently written as everything Miss Trevor puts her pea to.
The Man from Outback by Lucy Walker (Collins, 15s.) should be a dead ccrt for a place in any good women's magaeine but will not make any major fiction lists. Interesting Australian background.
A Moment in Time by H. E. Bates (Michael Joseph, 21s.) has already been there and to those of us who were young and RAFinvolved in he summer of 1940 it brings memo! ies most vividly to life. To those who weren't, this is history—weather, slang and all, and very well worth reading.
Anne Marreco's The Boat Boy (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 18s.), set ill Northern Ireland, tells of the trouble precipitated by the ambivalent interest in a local hay of a visiting British hypochondriac. An odd book that I think I must find time to rc-read.
The Magic Year by Joachim Maas (Barrie and Rocklin. 21s.) is the story of a childhood year in Hamburg before the prison gates of adolescence closed on him as remembered by a middle-aged refugee from Nazism. An outstandingly sensitive book.
Blood Amyot by Christopher Nicole (Jarrolds, 21s.) is the second of what will probably be a saga of the Amyot family of the Bahamas, not really a very admirable family and with a nasty tendency to breed matriarchs of rather easy virtue. Very interesting on both sides of the abolitionist question and the horrors of the American Civil War.