Reviewed by CLARE SIMON
'1'HE tit !)DEN STRANGERS, by William E. Barrett (Heinemann, 16s.).
ONLY a Catholic writer could have hit on the idea of a monk, married in youth, plucked out of his monastery and forced to meet again his wife, now a successful musical comedy star, in order to help straighten out a problem in their son's life.
Not that Brother Anselm is a " real " monk; a sort of laybrother he potters about the monastery and gives private nicknames to the other monks, Brother Rumpus, Brother Scalpus and Brother Mumble who did the reading in the refectory.
This " Cracks in the Cloister" mentality is ill-suited to tackle a particularly painful and sordid problem and only a few writers would have the temerity to do so.
While Brother Anslem has been happily puttering in his monastery, his wife Dorinda has become loved and successful and his son Bari has grown to man's estate. The latter has loved and lost, as he thinks, the child of that love. His problem is that his conscience tells him to find his child.
The mother, a hard little hit, has long gone out of Bart's life but his own fatherless state along with a deepening affection for his mother's secretary, also an orphan, brings things to a head, and he calls on his father, unknown since childhood, for help. THE drama of this fast-moving novel lies in the situation rather than the conclusion.
It is well written with that bite of dialogue, a sort of endless smart repartee, that is so unlike living dialogue but so impossible to put down.
At any point one might break in the middle of a crackle of thought, is the feeling. Bart himself as the seeking father achieved a sort of pathos hut Brother Anselm has during his long years out of the world, become 'nfected with that brand of pious and simple reasoning which does not show up too well against the ribald speech and nasty behaviour of the other characters In short a novel that does not shock so much as invoke pity for theimpotence in it of good against the evil and superficial; a novel that has aimed higher and hit lower than the same author's famous " Left Hand of God."
THE SANDCASTLE, by his Murdoch (Chattu & Windus, 15s.).
BACK to England and to the slow fantasy of the English novelist. Because Iris Murdock has chosen for the plot of her third
novel a situation all too well known in the best and worst of women's magazine fiction it would be a mistake to assume that she has aimed, and hit, no higher.
Her novel is a tour-dc-force of sensitivity and wit; she has described the love affair between a middle-aged schoolmaster and a young girl. The wife, middle-aged and pathetic, is also in evidence; so too, are the two adolescent children of the dull marriage.
Miss Murdoch is an uneven writer and on the whole she still does hest when describing something fantastic and out of the ordinary. Human emotions, though deeply felt, are too unadorned for her to get a proper grip on. But she has conveyed the growth of passion and the undertow of guilt from its small beginnings very well indeed.
KING'S GO FORTH, by J. D. Brown (Cassell, 13s. 6d.).
THIS is rough, tough stuff with
sweat and blood and seething human emotions breaking occasionally into blank verse that is not up to Eliot:
Set in wartime it is the story of conflict between two men, conflict of character that turns into conflict over a woman. But the author has unfairly loaded the dice by making one of his characters the narrator so that we are jogged by an unwilling sympathy and irritated by the hero's selfpity throughout the hook. And war, as a background, is now too commonplace to create its own irony.