BY MARY VAUGHAN
Maria, by Curtis Bok (Hutchinson, 21s.).
Awakening, by Ana Maria Mature (Hutchinson, I8s.).
A Blush of Shame, by Domenico Rea (Barrie and Rockliff, 16s.).
eURTIS BOK was a judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania who wrote on arid about the law. "Maria", completed not long before his death. is the magnificent flowering of observation, imagination and perceptive love.
The handicapped Maria and the sea are the two principal characters. In close support arc her hopelessly crippled father, Pierre Soulevent, professor turned sea captain. and the rather amorphous but eloquent Jahn from a "Europe" in vague contrast to the harsh Labrador island where Pierre cares for the development of Maria's soul and mind while she cheerfully and gratefully cares for his helpless body.
As Pierre dies, the love of Jahn and Maria grows in a few meetings, in the notes he offers her of his journey to Labrador and in the packet of letters she gives him to read on his journey back to Europe.
They are, and know they are, deeply fortunate lovers in that they can express the like-mindedness without which no love can be mutual, deep or lasting and they realise that, in Maria's words: "People must work at their personal relationships or they lapse."
Curtis Bok joins those "few writers" who "have made clear the nature of man's reaction to the sea". His command of vocabulary and imagery are superb beyond the range of 'normal' literary skill. Even the crescendoing horrors of a Conrad storm have nothing more majestic and the Great Pole himself seldom wrote nobler words about the awe-inspiring sea than Jahn's in Part I of his notes: "Man may not love the sea alone but the spectacle. and he must love it with an Old Testament fear, a combined fear and love of the Lord and his works that is neither love nor fear but wonderment . . "
Bok writes not only with awe and love of the sea, but with knowledge -nf whales; of wind-raising; of the prehistoric, sky-poised sea; of icebergs: of all the lore and learning of sailing and spar and of many kindred wonders.
If this book doesn't become a classic of this generation then it's an ungrateful and undiscerning' generation with its literary values in its feet. its stomach and other less spiritual places, but not in its head or its heart. Even the jacket
is a thing of balanced beauty. (One minor nark-the Sullivan never came from Wales, unless transi tl)
Senorita Matute's story is set in the Balearic Islands at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, thuugh the story depends little on time or place. I must confess I don't see the relevance to the story of the initial quotation from Jeremiah; "The Lord hash not sent thee; but thou makesi this people to trust in a lie."
1 would have chosen from the Song of Solomon: "jealousy is cruel as the grave." because the tragedy of the book is mainly caused by the love-starved and per ver l ed I y jealous boy. Bode, who also inherits from his monstrously impersonal grandmother "her absolute lack of pity."
Dehumanised by these satanic emotions he derides and destroys all that he vainly envies and the girl Matia, who tells the story. can only watch with a helpless uncomprehending pity as the tragedy mounts. A child can-as in "Lord of the Flies"-he as evil as any adult if he has as much intelligence as original sin, and this powerful book is a vivid and compassionate tale of the triumph of evil over good in the person of Manuel and Isis foredoomed
The evil in Signor Rea's book is passive and parasitic. As the breadand-wine winner of the family lies dying in agony. her husband and son mourn in their different ways the passing of the luxury and licence that her lifetime of selfless toil has provided for them. She is truly mourned by her loving and compassionate daughter and all the simple people who have valued her for her charity and kindness.
Signor Rea is a Neapolitan who brings to life the heat and squalour of Southern Italy. and also its basic kindness and the goodness that a good soul can generate and regeneraM in the least likely-seeming hearts if there is any love at all to nourish it.