Page 3, 30th January 1948

30th January 1948
Page 3
Page 3, 30th January 1948 — Outstanding Fiction by Catholics

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Organisations: Red Army
Locations: Vienna, Paris


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Outstanding Fiction by Catholics

By W. J. IGOE THE few months which have

just passed have witnessed the richest harvest of novels* from Catholic authors in the experience of this reviewer. From Marshall, Waugh, Mackenzie and Miss Royde-Smith, established writers, we have received good books, each reflecting the age and each in good-humoured conflict with its

tragic absurdity from Miss Houselander and Mr. Braddell come two notable first novels; Mr. Frank Baker, an artist .who should be better known, has given us a beautiful Jemesian essay which will be treasured by the connoisseur of good fiction. The season reaches its peak with the appearance of Mr. Gerard Hopkins' fine translation of Mauriac's great novel Therese.

Therese, in Mauriac's own words, is the story of a female " monster "; like all the French novelist's work, it is a tale of redemption. The volume contains two novels linked by two short stories, all dealing wills the development of one character. The first book telescopes the early life of Therese Desqueyroux, the poisoner, within her apprehensive reflections 'as she journeys back to her husband after having been released by the police; she has been acquitted of the charge of attempted murder. She is guilty. Her intended victim awaits her In her own words and in the passing stream of her thoughts Mauriac recreates for us the setting of her youth, the autumnal wooded lands around Bordeaux, the panorama of bourgeois families, motivated only by the dead mandarin values of a grasping class, passing before her puzzled eyes. their arid concern for shibboleths which are without meaning for her; with. relentless pity he unveils for us the mind of the lonely, loveless, faithless girl who, at Mass, sees only " a rrian in fancy dress . . his arms a little spread, whispering." She had to be free, and as this first part of the book ends she is liberated to evil and the unceasing search for what is good. The two short stories which follow are interludes illuminating Therese's life in Paris. "The second novel shows her as a middle-aged and dying woman finding salvation through love and the sacrifice of self.

The disciplined beauty of Mauriac's prose must be experienced to be appreciated; his effects arise in one's mind more like Bouqtiet than through any congciously effected method.

With Mr. Marshall we plunge into the word of the common man. His hilarious humour, his anger at the tragic follies of to-day, and his simple faith have provided for us in this latest book a wealth of fun and wisdom. It is set in Vienna. Its main character is one Colonel Nicobar, who is not a Catholic, but is uneasily aware of the majestic significance of the Church. The book comprises his conversations with Colonel Pinkie of the Red Army, Rev. Mother Auxilia, of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Holy Ghost, an Austrian Colonel, and the queer, mad people the Allies have sent out to re-educate the liberated Austrians in the manner of what we now call Western civilisation. Mr. Marshall's inventive mind has created for his characters a wonderfully funny language compounded of army and Edinburgh slang. They discuss a problem which has troubled the common man since the war began; why doesn't the Pepe do something about it ? In the final chapter Mr. Marshall provides the answer, which is not as easy as the common man might wish it to be.

R. Waugh and Miss Roydes. Smith are stylists of distinction. The former gives us a short novel in his earlier manner. Mr. ScottKing, a school teacher, who is "dim " and would be outraged if he were described as what he is, a hero, is plunged into a world which bears a distinct resemblance to more places than Yugoslavia. With bland heartlessness Mr. Waugh brings out the comedy which lies behind the voracious evil of the purely political value; in at least one chapter true pity for its victims emerges delicately and sincerely. On the last page there is a message for schoolmasters and others. This is a fine and exquisitely constructed little hook. Miss Royde-Smith gives us the story of Miss Bendix, who heroically served what was good. lost her faith and regained it enriched. Hers is the story of unnumbered spinster ladies. It is rather beautiful.

Comedy is the keynote of these English and Scottish novelists and Mr. Mackenzie, the old maestro, drives us nearly mad with his fun. It centres on the prayers of certain Catholic islanders of the Highlands of Scotland during a time of drought; there is no whisky to be had by these good people until Providence drives a ship aground off their coast. The effect of this most awful condition, on the love rives of the young, on the deliberations of the elders, on their pastor, who likes to drink a lot "in moderation," and the most heavenly release which sends their gratitude singing up to heaven could only COnle from a mind serenely esconced in the Faith.

Mk MISS Houseiander and Mr. Brad

dell give us their first books of fiction. The latter has written a picaresque satire in the form of a book for children, who will love it. Their parents will find an adult humour lurking under its gamin choice of characters. in the stock company where Winston WaterLion and other urchin grotesqueries run not and in the air station where the squadrons of swans talk in R.A.F. jargon. Miss Houselander develops her fate devotional works into a field which will ensure them the wider audience their excellence merits. Her ease in the medium is unusual in a new novelist. There is something of Marshall in her pity for ordinary folk; there is also a faintly acid humour which is entirely feminine, I recommend Mr. Frank Baker's stony of an old eccentric and a young composer, of lost love, and of the Past entwining itself around the present to thoec who search for the artist first in their novels. There is an ethereal quality in this novelist's work and a deepening sense of true and universal values which mark him out as a writer of importance.

• Therese. By Francois Mauriac. (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 10s. 6d.). The Red Danube. By Bruce Marshall. (Constable, 9s. ed.). ScottKing's Modern Europe. By Evelyn Waugh. (Chapman and Hall, 5s.). Witivky Galore. By Compton Mackenzie. (Chatto and Windus, 9s, 6d.). Little Gorki and The Black Swans. By Maurice Bradclell. (Cape, 8s. 6d.) Miss Bendix. By Naomi Royde-Smith. (Hollis and Carter, 6s.). The Dry Wood. By Caryll Houselancler. (Shoed and Ward, 88. 6d.) Embers, By Frank Baker. (Dakers, 7s. 6d.).

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