The desire for an adventure
By R. W. MILLAR Mariners' Prison by Michel Mohrt (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 18s.).
Smith and Jones by Nicholas Mon tsarrat (Cassell 13s. ad.).
Two Gentlemen Sharing by David Stuart Leslie (Seeker & Warburg 18s.).
d'ALIRS is not supposed to be a 4--0 romantic age, yet the desire for adventure, the wish to be a part of something larger than one's office-going and tax-paying self, may still operate in unlikely places, on the road to Aldermaston perhaps or in Irish back parlours where young men, born too late for the heroic struggle, plan an assault on a Border police station.
It is romance of the classic fullblooded kind which delights us in Mariners' Prison, the story of an eighteen-year-old boy told with assistance from his middle-aged self-who, in the not-so-far-off twenties, took part in a great adventure.
As a schoolboy in the College of the Bon Pasteur, Herve, who lives in a Breton fishing-port, is fired with the ideals of Breton nationalism by. a splendid militant priest known as Standing Jib. The Bretons suffering under the oppressive yoke of the Third Republic know that they can count on the co-operation of their fellow-Celts, the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh, still restive under the domination of England. So, in a yacht appropriately named King Arthur, the boy sets out with an eccentric Breton nobleman, Oliver de Keranger and the mysterious Lady Cecilia, to smuggle arms from Ireland into Brittany. This novel is the most delightful and urbane mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous, both perfectly under control. There are descriptions of running fights and seafaring hazards which recall Buchan, or even Stevenson.
There are sidelights on history, incursions into legend, some nice satire at the expense of the Law, and loving descriptions of a Brittany that still keeps its own way of life in spite of hordes of tourists and the march of standardisation.
No subtleties Smith and Jones, in Nicholas Montsarrat's new novel, are in their country's Foreign Service when they defect, with the maximum of publicity, to a hostile Power. Their story and characteristics are deliberately meant to remind as of You-Know-Who. An agent is sent behind the Iron Curtain to keep them under surveillance; he is a tough professional known as the Drill Pig, and is resentful both of the assignment and of the aura of privilege which still seems to operate in favour of Smith and Jones.
Do not look to this book for any subtleties, political or psychological. But the sheer storytelling gift of the author of The Cruel Sea is as rivetting as ever. 'You cannot put the book down until the end.
David Stuart Leslie's Two Gentlemen Sharing is full of the mythology of boarding-house life, modern style, the genteel landlady, at once suspicious and gullible, the oddly assorted room-mates, in this case a young man in an advertising office and a law student from Kingston. Jamaica.
The Englishman has a dull girl friend; the Jamaican a much more serviceable one. Gradually, warily, they all get to know each other and the relation is not sentimentalised. The picture of the Jamaican community is lively and convincing, the more inhibited and class-conscious English seem very dull by comparison; as perhaps they are.