By CLARE SIMON
WITH my mind on Christmas presents and the thought of a cosy "read" after clearing up the turkey and plum pudding, I looked at a batch of autumn novels and quickly discarded all those that seemed to me "arty-, uninteresting. written in flashes back and forth or otherwise ineligible as entertainment. pure and simple.
The remaining five I read. quite literally, in the order they seemed most appealing.
The first on my list, both for its simple cover and intriguing title, was Vincent Cronin's "The Letter After Z' (Collins, 18s.) and I was not wrong. It has just about everything.
AN attractive reckle., young man called Dirk Vidal is sent down from Oxford for checking his tutors and from that day forth is on the search for a more intense way of living.
He has a nice girl friend called Olivia, but to marry her he would have to settle down to English country life. He is a poet and tries to get attention for his first hook of peerns by parachuting while composiug. There is a session of Paris student life and a girl called Martine: Dick goes to a psychoanalyst to prove to himself that Martine is the girl for him but in the end she marries a rich American, Finally Dirk's search for a modus vivendi takes him to the Lebanon where he gets involved in arms smuggling and a mysterious girl called Giselle.
A word of warning: Mr. Cronin commits the unpardonable faux-pas (for an adventure story at any rate) of boring us in some detail about his hero's amorous exploits. But I am sure that sensitive members of the family will he able to skip.
TR.ESH FROM THE COUNTRY'', by 'Miss Read' (Michael Joseph, 15s.) may seem a strange second choice to the sophisticated. Nevertheless, it is a delightful book and has the flavour of a documentary. Tt is about a country girl who takes a post in a school in a new suburb, with a class of 40 children. The other teachers. Anna's landlady. the school inspectors, are all described pleasantly if not penetratingly. Best of all are parts about Anna home for the weekend in the country she really loves best.
IT has become a cliché by now that Paul Galileo is resoundingly readable and "Mrs. Harris Goes To New York" (Michael Joseph, Ws. 6d.) can be taken, almost gulped, at a -sitting.
It is about an awful pathetic little boy, "little 'Enry", who lives next door to Mrs. Harris in Battersea. He is the son of an American airman and she is convinced that his father in the States has only to know 'Enry's plight to swoop down and rescue him from his cruel adoptive family.
Mrs. Harris gets herself taken to New York with her friend Mrs. Butterfield as "helps" in an American family to look for 'Enry's father. On the liner she meets her old friend the Marquise. de Chassigny (if you have read "Flowers for Mrs. Harris" you will know about him) and involves him in a fantastic plot to smuggle little 'Enry into the United States. And on it goes. About halfway through it becomes a sort of game to avoid foreseeing the inevitable end.
ROLL OF THUNDER",
A by Mark Oliver (Cassell, 13s. 6d.) very nearly escaped being on my list at all by reason of its cover which shows a young man in a sort of halo standing on a solid looking cloud, with another cloud about to settle on his head. However, once past this hurdle, it turned into quite an absorbing saga of a boy being slowly driven to the bad by lack of understanding on the part of his family and nastiness on the part of his schoolfellows.
Quite why Jake St, Just should succumb to unpleasant surroundings and become first a drugaddict, then an alcoholic and finally an imbecile when others survive childhoods in prison camps and worse, is never fully explained.
The people who make his life a misery arc ogres. quite unrelated to real life. There are some nice people as well, notably an uncle who works in a camp for Neapolitan ragamuffins (all of whom turn into charming young men). but they do not succeed in rescuing Jake from the fate at which the jacket picture hinted.
A novel for pessimists who wish to be restored to gloom after Christmas gaiety, perhaps.
IHAVE PUT "The Custard Boys", by John Rae (HartDavis, 15s.) at the bottom of my list paradoxically because although it is certainly a better novel than my third and fourth choices it has a much more limited appeal. It is about a group of evacuees in Norfolk during the war: tough teenage boys who work out their eiders' unrest and their own impotence in savage cat-torturing and war games.
When a young Jew joins their group their activity takes on a different 'note and harsh reality breaks in.
The story is told by one of the boys, as spineless a character as anyone in such a group could possibly be, and ends on an impassioned cry for pacifism. The actual details of the story are unconvincing but the atmosphere is horribly real. This is a pocket of experience that. by its very nature. only a few can know at lirst-hand.
I need hardly add that the hook is unsuitable for teenagers.
Who was Pierrot exactly ? A clown with a romantic, tragic and revolutionary character? has Kay Dick, author of "Pien-ot" (Hutchinson, 30s.), sees him--after extensive and enthusiastic research-as a much more complex character than that. To understand him. she says, it is essential to study his remit) end his kinship with that great European family of travelling comedians whose dynasty reached its zenith at the beginning of the sixteenth century with the curnmerlirt deft arre. Readers of her book, crammed with dramatic social] history and folklore, wilt be able to do just that. There are many Illuminating illustrations. The one reproduced here is " Coco, the Clown
Pierrot," by Renoir.