Page 6, 27th August 1982

27th August 1982
Page 6
Page 6, 27th August 1982 — In the second of an occasional series of reassessments of books, Paul Sanders reads reissues of three established novels.

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Organisations: National Service
Locations: Oxford


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In the second of an occasional series of reassessments of books, Paul Sanders reads reissues of three established novels.

Landscape with Dead Dons by • Robert Robinson (Gollancz, £6.95).

IF I WERE the Robert Robinson of 1982 I'm not sure that I would want to expose the Robinson of 1956 to the public gaze, unless c/o a pseudonym.

I tried to catch the voice of the TV and radio Robert Robinson in these pages, but was unable to. I felt rather that here was a writer who hadn't yet quite mastered the use of one of the world's treasures, our language.

And if the prose is overdone a bit, so are the characters they're all undergraduates in disguise, including Autumn and Dorcas, the policemen, the elderly Mrs Spectre, and the first murder victim, whose interests were "gyrander, brasses, crosswords and malice".

It is nevertheless a most literary work, and lovers of our heritage as well as Oxford graduates with fond memories, should enjoy it.

IN Ginger, You're Barmy, David Lodge catches the spirit of the days of National Service conscription and expresses it with the ease of a natural writer. To a large extent it is a tale of survival in what to the author was two years of mindless waste.

But it is easy to transpose at least the survival part to any walk of life — with the common hopes and fears and uncertainties of young men entering life away from home. All types are there — the older, graduate, Jonathan, capable of a detached understanding of where his interests lie, the more actively hostile Mike (who by the way bears a surprising resemblance to the young Sebastian Flyte in his application of the Faith to death) the hypersensitive and inexperienced Percy, the sadistic corporal, and the chorus of crude soldiery and idiot junior officers. And there is Pauline in the background whom Jonathan woos and wins. But nothing in life seems to turn out quite as you expected.

The author apologises for his coarseness of language (mild by today's standards) but I don't think he need have done. That vocabulary is as necessary to his work as it was to Chaucer in his Tales.

I STARTED this book with my own high hopes of it reinforced by the words of Anthony Burgess's introduction. I finished it, though, thinking less of both Mr Warner and Mr Burgess.

It is supposed to be untidy, unsystematic but basically contented human family (the village) contrasted with the ruthless, totalitarian society (the aerodrome) seeking with psychotic unfeeling to take over everyone — but with ordinary human life eventually prevailing.

It turns out, though, to be more than anything a tangled web of mothering and fathering, mainly in the past, and which the young are aware of as part of that unknown earlier world that if possible they will not be admitted to.

This degenerates into a whodunnit concerning immediate ancestry. It is introduced in a contrived scene in the vicarage, and is resolved at the end of the book by the murder victim of the plot's beginning confessing all and going to his death at the hands of one of his sons whose own death he had arranged half an hour before (to simplify it somewhat!).

His other son, the narrator Roy, is, pace Mr. Burgess, not "more convincing" than Winston Smith of Orwell's "1984". Roy is as impressionable a person as you could wish to meet, enticed and converted by every passing fancy. Smith had at least the spunk to have to be broken by torture and betrayal before he could love Big Brother.

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