CAUGHT IN A DISTORTED WORLD
Where nothing counts but greed and gain
T r Confidential Agent. By Graham Greene. (Heinemann. '7s. fid.) Wad Geese Overhead. By Neil M. Gunn. (Faber, 7s. 6d.)
River, Sing Me a Song. By Peter Malin. (Cassell, 78. fide The Blood of the Martyrs. By Naomi Mitchison. (Constable, 8s. 8d.).
Reviewed by FRANCIS BURDETT LIE CONFIDENTIAL AGENT is a strange and haunting book. As we read we are eaught up into a growing tension springing from the sense of pursuit, the suspicion, tragedy and growing terror that involve the central figure. A disrupting world impinges at every moment.
D., whose own country is rent by civil war, is the confidential agent of one side whose mission it is to secure vital contract. for coal. With coal
they can win, without it they perish. Terrible experiences had been his in his own country: bombs and a falling house and a wife rhot in mistake for someone else.
England, at first so seemingly peaceful, turns out to be beneath the decorous surface little better than the country he had left. Mysterious and unpleasant things quickly follow his arrival here. There is a pursuit that reveals itself in quick succession by a beating, a shot fired in a London street at night, the frightful death of the chambermaid at the hotel where he had been told to stay. ''here is the further death of a teacher of languages who is also an agent for his own side.
But the incidents, grim and disturbing as they are, are less horrifying than the growing terror. Events harmless in themselves are revealed as traps and snares. Everything is twisted and distorted in the grim struggles between the opposing forces. The scathing. brutal under-surface of English life is revealed to D., once a famous professor and now fighting for his life.
It is a remarkable achievement. The reader, too, feels caught and helpless in a distorted world where nothing counts save greed and gain.
II' is a different world, a poet's and mystic's world, to which Mr Gunn introduces us. Wild Geese Overhead does not shut its eyes to the brutalities and cruelties of modern life; they are th background for the beauty that is revealed. We see a journalist in Glasgow, trapped as it were in a sordid and mean world in which he eminently succeeded. But something within him would not be quieted until he found a. rest, an intermittent rest, in another, more natural world. He found the farm near that miraculous spot where once he had heard the wild geese flying. Able. critical, cynical, he puts up a fight with himself, but he is betrayed by something that will not be constrained by the merely material. Nature, the song of birds, the play of light, flowers, it may he or trees. increased his stature. as they increased his understanding. Even the crimes of the Glasgow slums take on a deeper meaning and beget. a deeper understanding and contentment.
There is much beauty and nothing trivial or sentimental in the writing. Nature mysticism may not be enough, but it is rare to find expressed with so much ability human frailty amidst the glories of a God given world.
THERE is something fresh and entertaining in River, Sing Me a Song. Paul Charning, for that was thought to be his name, is lying in the casualty ward of a London hospital. The accident that brought him there resulted in a loss of memory. He tells his own story, and we share his vivid reactions to hospital life, and especially to Ann-who-was-notAnn, one of the nurses.
It was frightful to him to be without a name, without a known past and in possession of a thousand unexplained currency notes. The last improbable fact gave rise, in his own mind, to the most sinister conjectures. Gradually the facts become clear to him. Deceived in love he had committed a double murder. But this is disproved when the police Investigate. Bewildered and upset, he gropes in a slowly returning memory. There are weeks of intense anguish and painful search for the hidden facts that lie behind his accident. What they were and how they come to light, and whether indeed it would not have been best if they had been permanently lost, the reader must discover and determine for hirt sseilf. a skilful presentation of an abnormal situation.
MISS MITCHISON'S intention, it would seem, in The Blood of the Martyrs, is to make a comparison between Rome in Nero's time and today. She writes a modern, slangy English and depicts the Christians according to her fancy. It is all hopelessly unreal and unhistorical and without compensating qualities.