Mr. Amts and All
Reviewed by MARY VAUGHAN
One Fat Englishman, by Kingsley Amis (Gollanez, 18s.), The Group, by Mary McCarthy (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 18s.). Presentation Parlour, by Kate O'Brien (Heinemann, 21s.).
The Acts of Darkness, by J. A. Cuddon (Barrie & Rockcliff, 22s. M.). Let's Keep Religion Out Of This, by Alan Hackney (Golianci., 16s.).
The Main Who Played God, by Robert St. John (Hammond Hammond and Co., 21s.).
Miau, by Perez Galdos (Methuen, 25s.).
The Castle And The Hemp, by Philip Rush (Collins, 12s. 6d.).
Lady On The Coin, by Margaret Campbell Barnes and Hebe Elsna (MacDonald, 16s.).
False Colours, by Georgette Meyer (The Rodley Head, IRO R. AMISS Englishman is an obese, blasphemous, lecherous. treacherous, gluttonous, drunken, pompous and totally boring mess. His loathesomeness is so complete that it doesn't need what it utterly lacks--a background with a few even half-likeable characters to provide a contrast to his beastliness.
All the personae of this unsavoury work are repellant, some actively, some with the passive nastiness of large white slugs, with the possible exception of the Danish philologist who we are vaguely given to understand, loves his promiscuous wife.
Among the semi-passive nastics is the New England college's Catholic chaplain who is treated with vicious brutality by the F.E. who. to highlight his grotesqueness. professes an intermittent Catholicism which he never practises.
Maybe, however. the "Arras" of "Lucky Jim" is, if dead, not wholly unresurrectable. His ghost stalks this sour and bitter book. Sometimes a mad verbal jewel is flung to the reading swine and occasionally a flash of real fun brightens the murk. But this is a deep-down filthy book and the old (young) Amis is sadly missing.
Even more detestable. because more pretentious, is The Group. Miss McCarthy casts a very cold eye on life, especially as lived by a dreary collection of her Vassar contemporaries in the '30s. Malcolm Muggeridge commended her recently for doing as he claims (and rightly. thank God) few other women writers do-namely, treating sex as funny.
If that's what she's up to here. few readers would have recognised it and most would, without this expert guidance, have considered that she regarded and treated it as both disgusting and undignified.
Sex is not funny but was certainly intended by the Lord to be fun, which it is not for any one of these dim and humourless young women.
One could perhaps commend this book as a Socially Significant Document or praise the bleak austerity of Miss McCarthy's style. (.)r more honestly dismiss it as a well-mixed and nauseous emetic.
After those two. Miss O'Brien's lovely book is even more welcome than it would be at any time and in any company. For sheer skill, she outpoints the two of them easily (anyone interested in the novelist's art. especially Miss O'Brien's own approach to it and a splendid commentary on leading nineteenth century novelists should get hold of Vol. 3, Number 4 of University Review and read therein her lecture last May to the Graduates' Association of the National University of Ireland). Here she recalls with unblinded love the five aunts who figured largely in the Limerick childhood Of herself and her eight brothers and sisters who would have been "a lost and queer bundle of orphans without them", Miss O'Brien's many admirers know that she hasn't it in her to be either sentimental or crude, but that for observation, compassion and wiry elegance of writing she is unmastered-or unmistressed.
Presentation Parlour is this reviewer's Book of the Year and will. if there's any literary justice, remain. as a classic when Miss McCarthy's and Mr. Amis's productions have long been forgotten. A high mark, too, to Brian Russell for his attractive (book) jacket.
Mr. Cudden's book is good reading on many levels: for fine writing. especially for deft use of unusual but apt adjectives: for assorted information painlessly administered, ranging from the authenticity of the Gospels and the early commentators writings about them; through Hume's views on causality, scientific and botanical learning and the technique of cock-fighting, His descriptions are vivid; and his characters grow in good or evil as the story swirls to a rather inchoate but powerful ending. The parson Girdler, depressed and anxious because he sees himself only as "a kind of superannuated entertainments officer" who doesn't "know how to make religion amusing or entertaining" as he sadly confesses to Father Garrard about whom much of the darkening story revolves.
Fr. Garrard's nephew. Philip, advancing with mind and will towards the light from which he is held back by the depraved and depraving Cornelia; her grandfather, the toh old admiral with his sound views on society and "the triple arch corrupters women, money and egoism" these are among the characters who play forcefully before the curtains of the real drama-the struggle between God's unrequited love and the malevolence of evil.
This book is outstanding in construction and excitement; and "believers" and non-believers alike will find in it many a meal for thought and even for meditation, as a bonus to an absorbing story excellently told.
Lee's Keep Religion Out Of This, by the author of "Private's Progress" and "l'm All Right, lack," is a sure-fire film script, though Peter Sellars has not long since led a frolic on the same theme-the extreme awkwardness caused all round when a preacher of religion insists on literal obedience to the teachings of the Gospels.
The Mayor indignantly corn
plains of the Rev, Potts. "That chap can't keep religion in its place. Wants to invade your private life With it"; and the local M.P. bitterly resents the "extreme lack of manners" of the vicar in quoting the Bible at him. There is one unforgiveably ancient joke but I pardon it for the sake of "The transporter's driver trod instantly on the brake, uttering a word of attested literary merit". One or two gentler words would be fair comment on the literary value of this work; but for a convalescent friend it might he a welcome gift which would move him to mild mirth with no danger to his stitches.
The Man Who Played God is. though in the form of fiction. a true and horrifying story with the Hungarian hero thinly disguised under the name of Horvath, the saviour of some thousands from the millions of Jews obliterated by the Nazis. Recommended reading for all who cannot understand why the Jews find it hard to forgive or forget.
Senor Galdos, frequently legitimately described as the Spanish Balzac, Dickens or Tolstoy, spent his life writing 67 novels dealing with nineteenth century Spain. Miau tells of a minor government official who. with a change of government. loses his job two months before reaching his pension. His small. epileptic grandson and his grimly ghastly family are universally recognisable and the book is excellently translated by J. M. Cohen.
Neel. three competent historical novels by experienced and popular writers of the genre. Mr. Rush's well-illustrated (by Charles Keeping) story is set in thirteenth century England and moves at a lively pace to a happy ending for the amateur troubadour and his lady love.
Margaret Campbell Barnes has a high reputation as a writer of historical fiction. especially of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. and it is said that this is her last book, unfinished when she died but ably completed by her friend, Hebe Eisna.
Margaret Irwin's Royal Flush should be read before starting this for fuller briefing on the tragic life in exile of Charles I's widow and children, particularly Charles IF and his beloved sister Minette, and her disgusting husband Philippe d'Orleans.
Miss Meyer takes us into Regency days, though the period matters less than the atmosphere or this amusing story of the Denville twins and the complications of an impersonation engineered by their lovable, if wildly extravagant mamma. The Regency slang is highly infectious-I'm deuced certain I'd fly up into the branches if I had to unravel such a haveycavey rig!