Three out of Four
Idle on Parade. By William Camp. (MacGibbon and Kee, 15s.) Mountolive is the third in a series of four novels in which Lawrence Durrell is describing life and pot-love among the Alexandrians of yesterday. The series depends on the relativistic proposition that there are as many subjective truths about a given set of circumstances as there are different observers to formulate them. Accordingly, the first volume, Justine, dealt with a pattern of events as interpreted by the novelist and schoolmaster, Darley, whose vision was confused (if poetic) and not the less muddled for his infatuation with the prostitute - cum - Lesbian - cum -woman -of-destiny, Justine : the second book was a re-interpretation of the same goings-on, still proceeding out of the mouth of Darley but largely dependent on new factors elicited by the dynamic nosiness of the doctor, Balthazar : and now Mountolive gives us a third viewpoint, since the same events are presented yet again as they impinge on Sir David Mountolive, who, being British Ambassador in Egypt, gets a longer and clearer look from the roof of his palace than does the layabout Darley from the stews. Furthermore, though this latest instalment takes Mountolive as its central figure, it is recounted, not by Mountolive himself, but, for once, by the presumably omniscient Mr. Dur- rell; and it is therefore fair to infer that this part of the series is intended to provide a broad and objective picture of the entire situation, on the basis of which we may appreciate the fumbling essays in understanding and exploration made by Darley and his disreputable friends.
Now, Mr. Durrell is an undoubted fascinato! He produces gorgeous set-pieces. He is often out- rageously funny. He is seldom dull, and when he is, he is dull with a world-weary distinction which makes undergraduates swoon like bobby-soxers. But Mountolive has let several huge cats out of the bag, and I cannot get out of my head a colleague's (privately made) suggestion that this series, when all is said, is something of a 'tease.' The first two volumes are about a complex of amatory relation ships so intricate and studied that they invite 'the criticism of being highly contrived. But Mount- olive reveals the existence of an international conspiracy which, involving many of the chief characters, goes a long way towards explaining and excusing the apparent contrivance in, much that has occurred. Artificially contracted passions are now seen as exercises in spying, inexplicable deaths as the result of indiscretion, and so forth. All right. Splendid. But this does also mean that all of us—including Darley—have been rather shabbily 'strung along' for the first half of the series. Persuasively led to regard Mr. Durrell's Alexandria in terms of love and personalities, we suddenly find the whole thing extended by a further dimension into the world of power politics. Mr. Durrell would probably say that any observer in this world2f flux must expect to be 'strung
aloa.p. must refuse to be dismayed by the sprout- ing of new co-ordinates. But one reason why we tolerate novelists at all is that we expect from them the comfort of being shown an ultimately stable framework that will contain even the most diverse events. A novelist must reconcile, must not deceive and then disrupt. . . . However, it will be wiser to refrain from further judgment until Cleo, the last of the series, has appeared; and it would be ungenerous not to say how eagerly I, at least, look forward to it.
The Search, first published in 1934, now cut a good deal and reissued, has a sad little preface by C. P. Snow in which he says that this novel, though a success, was 'a false start' for him—as much because of the things he did well in it as the things he did badly. 'I wanted to say something about People first and foremost, and then people-in- society . . . at quite a different level from any- thing in this book.' Sir Charles reckons that in the Strangers and Brothers series he has succeeded iu so doing; and, as I understand him, his objec- tion to The Search is that the people in it don't come to life except when they are engaged in scientific work or discUssion—that they do not attain to the status of 'people' or 'people-in-society' but remain just 'people-in-the-labs.' Now it should be said at once that as an account of scientific research this is a tremendously exciting book: it has the long days of grind and frustration, the quickening hope, the final triumphant satisfac- t,_inn as the figures are checked and the startling hypothesis confirmed. This impels me to say that, whatever Sir Charles may think about the impor- tance of creating 'people' in themselves and his own later efforts to do so, his prime excellence has continued to lie in his accounts of people a's', they are concerned in a professional process. !he Search may have been a 'false start' in the sight of Sir Charles's ambition : it is very relevant in the light of his achievement. The Army. The Mountain Road is an excellent description of an unfamiliar campaign—the retreat expedition to China. It concerns the of '44; and where it scores is in convey- ing the real feeling of retreat—the furtive excite- '. ent of the rear' party working against time in the excite- d base, the butterflies-in-the-stomach birgency to get clear before the last bridge is a.asy• • . . Interrupted Journey is a promising st novel about Cyprus : the soldiering is well done,"i but the contrast the author wishes to make between the hero's duties as a professional officer andhis feelings as a humane man is common- Zarcein conception and blurred in execution. As William Camp's Idle on Parade, it is an entirely readatn readable but by now surely supererogatory laccount of the gangling student in the ranks. Still, ."(13e pirsonnel is pleasingly Amisian; the porten- tous us silliness of junior commissioned Guardsmen ,!.,_‘Yell taken; and there is a triumphant scene in "'Rich the hero attends a deb ball in battledress