by MARY VAUGHAN
All Things Nice by Rachel Bil lington (Heinemann 30s.) When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head (Gollancz 25s.) The Non-Combatants by David Creed (Collins 25s.) Reader's Report by Christopher Derrick (Gollancz 35s-)
THE heroine of Rachel BRlington's story is more sugar than. spice and one can't help hoping the book's not as autobiographical in person as it is in setting, Kate's milieu having been previously occupied by the author herself in many instances — and very shrewdly observed.
Bessie Head's novel is also firmly based on her own life— in Botswana, caught. like so much of Africa, between tradition and revolution. She says many wise things about the burdens as well as the benefits of education to her kinsfolk, and looks with clear eves on the unmanliness of "dominant" men and the necessary selfsufficiency and loneliness that this imposes on women, on the contradictions of fratricidal Christianity as it seems to Africans and with especially loving clarity on the flowers, beasts, birds, seasons and scenery of her adopted country.
She is, like her hero Makhaya, a refugee from South Africa and with no security of tenure, but a strong and unsentimental vision of human dignity. Her very considerable gifts as a writer have blossomed from her own genius and, at least as a writer, she should have a distinguished future.
The blurb of "The NonCombatants" claims that there are "two strands of this unusual novel." This reviewer can only see two settings: Hong Kong and the Bengal jungle, as backgrounds for a set of totally dissimilar characters arbitrarily labelled with the same names. Story 1 is launched and abandoned before story 2 is dashed down. and "unseen force of destiny" is big, and not valid, magic to invoke as a connecting link.
Mr. Creed will write a major novel if he continues to observe and describe so vividly and well. But this isn't it.
For anyone unable to get going with the novel that lurks in every writer's system, Christopher Derrick's hook should clear the log jam. As a success. ful writer and a long-time publisher's reader, he knows just how a publishable novel should be planned, written (and not written), revised and submitted; and his advice, backed by highly relevant quotations from over 34 (counted) successful novelists, is enormously and entertainingly practical. It is of, possibly stimulating interest to learn that "the Catholic novelist . . . who writes from within a highly structured system of values and morality, has an unfair advantage over the rest: though he may not use this advantage wisely or at all." Let this thought lead you to lush Greene fields.