Page 6, 6th May 1966

6th May 1966
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Page 6, 6th May 1966 — A young Italian's pilgrimage to his past L UIGI BARZINI, in
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A young Italian's pilgrimage to his past L UIGI BARZINI, in

his book The Italians, speaks of the melancholy. nostalgia and fatalism in the recesses of the Italian character ; Giuseppe Dessi's new novel The House at San Silvano, excellently translated by Isabel Quigley, conveys in fictional terms this same melancholy and fatalism as no other book has done for me before (Harvill, 21s.).

Ostensibly the novel explores the relationship of a young man with his brother, with the sister who brought up the two boys, and with the house of San Silvano where he passed his childhood and youth.

His early years, under his sister's loving and selfless care, seem to him in restrospect idyllic, and now, "since my sister married and the house at San Silvano was closed. I could no longer rest in the summer months, and thus build up my strength for the long time I had afterwards to spend in town."

His present is on perpetual pilgrimage to his past, superficially because of the security of this past, but at a half-conscious level because of something there which remains unfulfilled. In fact this novel is a profound essay on nostalgia. and, as the narrator half realises, one is nostalgic not for what one once had and has no longer, but for what one never possessed. Island of lnishkeever off the west coast of Ireland (Seeker & Warburg, 30s.).

Against her will she finds herself engaged to Padraig, a young seminarian who gives up his vocation to marry her. But rebelling against the stiffing pressures of the small and closed community, she has a short and furtive affair with the captain of a visiting Scottish fishing boat.

She flees to Dublin, but re turns once again to her island, now three months with child, and faced now with the implaccable emnity of the humiliated and bitter Padraig.

Mr. Power writes extremely well. His realization of the complexities of the isolated community life is authentic. But through the complexities of his characters' natures I think he treads less surely. His fine and polished prose cannot quite pin down the romanti

cism of the plot, and his characters, victims perhaps of too private and obscure an emotion in the author, remain blurred and unfulfilled.

If Mr. Power's novel, in the seriousness of its attempt to articulate a complex and passionate vision, can be called an impressive failure, then Geoffrey Household in his new

volume of short stories, Sabres on the Sand (Michael Joseph, 25s.), scores a success which to me was something less than impressive.

"These short stories," the blurb tells us, "are characteristically wide-ranging in place, time and flavour."

In place and time, yes: the author is extremely entertaining, whether he is telling us about the donation made by the Cathedral cat at the Harvest Festival, or relating the misadventures of an Englishman challenged to a duel in Bucharest. But wide-ranging in flavour, no: Mr. Household sticks resolutely to the shallows.

He has a nose for those comfortable clichés which we all think we have rejected but haven't quite.

And so we meet again that gay and charming but inefficient Italian, or that Englishman, whose heart, even when it is in his mouth, is kept firmly behind a stiff upper lip. Even the animals are comfortably anthropomorphised, nicely dressed in sky-blue trousers. I enjoyed them.

The first two parts of Par Lagerkvist's Tobias trilogy, The Death of Ahasuerus and Pilgrim at Sea, have earned the author great praise. His new novel, The Holy Land, which completes the trilogy, is equally impressive (Chatto & Windus, 10s. 6d.).

Finally, Pearl Buck's new novel, Death in the Castle, which tells of the efforts of a rich American to buy an English castle, is as fast moving and exciting as anything she has ever written (Methuen, 21s.).

James Best




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