Two First Novels About The Irish
Spring Horizon. By T. C. Murray. (Nelson, 7s. 6d.)
The Wind Changes.. By Olivia Manning.
(Cape, is. 6d.)
The Heathen. By Honor Wyatt. (Seizin and Constable, 7s. 6d.)
The Queen's Pawn. By Kathleen Conyngham Greene. (Harrap, 7s. 6d.)
Reviewed by FRANCIS BURDETT
It would be difficult to exaggerate the difference between these two first novels, Spring Horizon and The Wind Changes. Both deal with Irish characters and both are well written. But while Mr. Murray tells a quiet story with such reticence that the reader's attention is held almost before he is aware of it, Miss Manning's sophistication arid the quality of her writing declare themselves from the first page.
Spring Horizon tells us of a world in which we have always believed but too seldom read about. It deals with the essential Ireland, undramatic, workaday hut the care of the national life. Stephen was the schoolboy son of a corn merchant and
grocer in a small country town. It is
through his eyes that we see his family, his home and his surroundings.
There is nothing particularly outstanding but gradually the whole small world in which he lives takes on life and colour. It is so simple, so natural, so positive that I, as a constant reader of fiction, felt an amazed gratitude that such sanity not only existed but could be written about. If Stephen was nervous and highly strung he was so in a way that can be recognised as completely normal. Religion is not made into a bugbear but exists as a natural and accepted background to life. There are one or two odd bits of information that seem to me valuable in themselves.
A sequel is promised and to that I look forward.
With The Wind Changes we are transported into another world. With subtlety and penetration the characters of three people, shortly after the Easter Week rising in Dublin, are revealed. It is done with the precision and delicacy of a surgeon exposing some infected spot in the human body. Two are Irish and one is English but all are infected with the same microbe.
One, having rejected Catholicism along with much else, puts his energies into the secret recall to Dublin of one of the escaped rebel leaders. But even this activity is subordinated to the observations of his character and is shown to be Sean's mode of retaining some self-respect.
Anon, the Englishman and a successful writer, masks his vulnerability and weakness beneath a carefully assumed aloofness and self-sufficiency. Sean, ill, weak and tormented, derives all his internal strength from Arion's flattery. Elizabeth, who completes the trio, disbelieving in everything except herself (and without much belief in that) vainly seeks happiness in affaires with, Anon and Sean.
The whole is a clever picture of the dismal egoism of human nature bereft of faith that results in a sterile sensuality intolerable in its isolation and lack of purpose.
Miss Wyatt, I think, deserves the thanks of her readers for having invented or discovered, or at all events having written about, something new in the way of characters. Martha, in The Heathen, is new because she intensely dislikes the " untidiness" of human relationships. She felt instinctively and intensely that individuals have a right to their own individuality. They should not unnecessarily be disturbed and upset, more especially when this restless interference springs from an insensibility to the rights of things. For Martha was intensely aware that things, houses and possessions of all sorts, had rights and rights that are too commonly ignored. " They (things) are more real and definite and often more enduring than we are and we've no right to bring them down to the level of our own uncertainty."
These convictions, because of their clarity and definiteness for herself, confused and misled her relations and friends. They were the more bewildered because, in spite of what they considered her selfish indifference to others, they recognised in her, however unwillingly, a fundamental sanity and even something attractive. It is delightful in these introspective days to read a book that is so much more interested in the subtleties and sympathies of inanimate things than in the fretful interferences of. those who so unworthily own them.
Martha's unwilling attempt to compromise her own convictions in an endeavour to please others led to difficulties. Things played a surprising part in this but only surprising, perhaps, to the obtuse. One may regret that Martha who showed so keen a sensitiveness in one direction should, so far as we can surmise, be so blind in others, but she utters many truths that are necessary if human beings are to return to sanity.
In Queen's Pawn we are transplanted to one of those imaginary Balkan States that play so important a part in fictional geography. More important than the geography is the royal family that fell upon evil days after the World War. Their misfortunes are told with sympathy and we come to love the heroic Queen whose dignity and wisdom survived all that a mad and uncomprehending world could do to her. When we hear so much that can be said in favour of revolutionaries and the reforms that are expected to work in the world, it is good to read sometimes of the price that has to be paid.