15 MAY 1941, Page 20


The Lie Triumphant. By Reyner Barton. (Chapman and Hall. 8s.) IN my last review I asked : where are the novelists?—and scarcely were the words in the letterbox when out of my next parcel stepped the hardly-disputed English kingpin—Mr. Somerset Maugham. Indeed, a very slim shaver of him this time—an allowance rather like a cheese ration, but not• so nourishing. Up at the Villa is a nouvelle in shape; in character and substance it is a magazine story by an expert. It is a story of situation. An English widow finds- herself "at the age of thirty with some fine pearls and an income just large enough, with rigid economy, for her support." She has hired a villa outside Florence, and has been courted through the spring by an old friend, aged fifty-four, who is just about to be made

Governor of Bengal. He proposes on a June evening, flies to Cannes to accept his appointment, and will return for her

answer within three days. In his absence two men impinge very vigorously upon her ordered life. One of them dies, shoots himself, in her bedroom just before dawn. In her dilemma appeals to the second, who had been trying to make love to -r a few hours before.. What happens next, and what is said done when the Governor of Bengal returns from Cannes, it would be shabby of me to reveal. The whole thing is as neat and inessential as the best kind of glove, but it is also cleverly exciting, and will keep many women murmuring happily and uneasily, as they race over the easy pages : "There but for the grace of God. . . ."

Italy again in Mr. jack Lindsay's book—but the Italy of 1816 and, very elaborately, of the Italians. A faulty, overwritten book, with a lot of heavy, introspective going and some appalling words, to wit "To intuit," "he intuited." (I am aware of my very good pun.) But warmth, sympathy and unashamed aban- don to the picturesque woo the reader to indulgence of some absurdities, and we are made to acknowledge the author's vitality, and to respect the eagerness and industry with which he has sought to recreate the Rome, Umbria and Naples of a hundred and twenty-five years ago. What a chaotic, desperate and ignorant Italy! Mr. Lindsay has put so much love and pity into his picture of it that we allow his complementary prejudices; also we take a good deal of repetitive self-analysis from the English hero, because of his true and gentle response to all that he finds about him, poverty, oppression and beauty. Harry Woodhouse is a painter, young, uncertain and self-centred. Wrestling with the problems of his work, he becomes the friend of an earnest young man of the Carbonari—and he grows in- fatuated with an extraordinary and maddening English girl. This passion leads him a sad dance, and at its climax he has to sacrifice it to his loyalty to Colombo, the political rebel. In the exaltation of this sacrifice he finds an answer to his problems as artist and man. Mr. Lindsay overwrites grievously, yet through masses of loose words he manages to sustain certain essentials—the characters of Harry and Colombo, the luminous physical appeal of the English girl, and the beauty and tragedy of Italy at the close of the Napoleonic wars.

The Lie Triumphant is described on the wrapper as "for the literary epicure." The story is told in three parts, by three people. A middle-aged, unsuccessful actor travels from London on a day of November, 1938, to visit a sister who is in a nursing home, recovering from a motor accident. Driving carelessly, she had killed her lover, not killed the visiting brother, and con- cussed herself into temporary but total loss of memory. With the actor travels that day his still more middle-aged, dov-dy sister, a grasswidow and cranky. He and the beautiful sister had always disliked her. We get the family story first from the actor's impressions, moods and tenses throughout the day of the visit, second through the dowdy grasswidow's more con- cise report, and finally—a fortnight or so later—through the

beautiful sister's impressions of her own return to memory and reality. The method is dangerous, for it involves too many

repetitions. I did not care for the narrative manners of Jack, or of the beautiful sister, Isobel; but the middle part, told by the dull sister, has many true and touching passages, and is the most meritorious part of the book. KATE O'BRIEN.