17 AUGUST 1944, Page 14

Norfolk Worthies

Men of Branber. By Edward G. Thompson. (Frederick Muller. 7s. 61)

IN the preliminary chapter to his witty and racy book, Mt Thompson follows, doubtless undesignedly, • the method - usually adopted by that great humorist, Arteinas Ward, who was wont open his travelling show with the engaging confession: " Gendemen, this snow is worse than shows usually are." He poses for a moment as a dreary laudator teniporis acti, bewailing the crimes committal by modern architects and planners and developers against a par dealer Norfolk village. Happily this excessive dislike of the present has prompted him to revive memories of the so-thought golden of a half and a whole century ago and to exercise his dramatic gi of historical imagination. The book is in effect a succession short stories concerning the folk of this Norfolk village, the author' present home, at some remote date. The tale of incidents, 1, dramatic in essence, vary a good deal in merit ; but some of theft, above all the marriage of the rural miser and the one-time slu; achieve the rare and remarkable feat of teaching pathos through th: medium of burlesque humour. Indeed, the love story,_if it.may beu called, of Dubbelo Dodman and Sarah Slopdale—the names a characteristic—is a little masterpiece of humorotis narrative ; and th: Norfolk scenes in and round about Branber are only less vivid the the characters. The many improbabilities are made more plausibi both by the gusto of the writer and the presence of the one consur character, Mother Midnight, a sort of Meg Merilees, an allegd witch and real smuggler, who act's on a number of occasions as dea ex machina, and indeed as author and begetter of the plots brings to successful denouements. Old country phrases as well as fables are pleasantly revived, and so long as the reader is not pd suaded 1-•: them to attribute historical accuracy to the pidturt they are all to the good. What cohesion there is between the incidet suggests that the author might perhaps have reached a higher led if he had made one story of it all instead of many. He might yd approach, though in a much more sprightly manner, even such mistress of historical imagination as. Mary Webb, or, since it is wd to aim high, Thomas Hardy. In rural affairs, human as well agricultural, Norfolk has claims to pre-eminence even over Wessel W. BEACH THOMAS.