By CONSTANCE HOLT Undiscovered Country by Kathryn C. Hulme (Muller 30s.).
THIS compelling book is the story of a best-selling author about her own search for "something more," That something we may call the Key -the Source-the Beyondor the Kingdom of God which we all want.
Many people get the thread for the search put into their fingers through the Penny Catechism (sorry-is it sixpence?), the simplest Bible story, the Koran . . . or a pagan fairy-tale. This author systematically seeks through (apparently sustained) hero-worship and discipleship of the philosopher George lvanovitch Gurdjieff in the Paris of the thirties. Her book is, in itself, something much more than her ecstatic tributes to "the master."
No wise man of the East or West can ever have been pursued so hectically in fast cars and soul-searing humility as was this teacher, by the author and her wealthy milliner friend-and incidentally the quest provides scope for impressive patches of travel writing.
Gurdjieff is a vital part of the spiritual autobiography ... "The experience of my years as one of his disciples dominates the landscape of my life like a single mountain looming out of con
text ." she says. in evidently tranquil recollectionand his voice of conscience became hers for many years. Later, after his death, she studied and accepted the Catholic Church. A flick of pleasant humour touches the record of this event.
For myself, as one of predictably many readers who will be caught up in this powerful story. I am not converted to even fleeting vicarious admiration of Gurdjieff. Obviously the desperately intense "retreats," laced with his talk and rebukes (especially to Kathryn Hulme "Crocodile" to him) and punctuated by enormous meals for all, brought many lively characters to a deeper knowledge of selfa precious gift to anyone. to any cult or company.
To express faint nausea for what one gathers to he this master's methods may he as rude and --tin-humble" as he seems to have been. I didn't even care to hear this Parisian Apostle refer to casino addicts as "dead souls" (the group of disciples went on a trip to the Riviera . .. which, let's face it, be as spiritually fruitful as Lourdes) But then was not there to see the inspired twinkle in the eye. It is not his fault that a captious reader thinks of loaves and fishes while the master and company are
waiting for trout and brandy,
Anyway the author is not at pains to convert us to the Gurdjieff way of working: he rightly has a key place in her story. Rut the climate of his following, so keenly described, simply invites comparison with the methods of the Master by any of the feeblest stragglers in the common-or-garden Christian community. I could have spared myself. and may spare other readers. an irritation with a leader I never met.
The little Belgian ex-nun Chouka (heroine of "The Nun's Story"), colleague of the author in post-war UNRRA on a vast task of rehabilitating refugees from Nazi slave camps, she suddenly expresses, with shyness and reserve the questions that surge up more stormily in less charitable and patient minds.
Chouka, closely involved with the author in an immense, almost heartbreaking job in Germany, becomes, as it were, the bridge between the laden Gurdjieff tables of Paris and the Last Supper table of Jerusalem. Any unworthy squirming at what reads like a gastronomical as well as spiritual adventure (yes I know body and soul go tosettler in this vale of tears and laughter and we all like food) -such squirming, if any, can be called off long before the end of a memorable book.