18 FEBRUARY 1949, Page 30

The Tricks of the Trade

FOR a moment there seemed a chance of getting away with it. One would draw attention discreetly but woolly to this " thoughtful slim volume" of Mr. Prodwit's, with "its wealth of rewarding material," " its sharply pointed if unorthodox argument," etc., etc.; recommend it as "of interest only to a limited circle of professional readers," and leave it at that. Prodwit after all was dead (the Guide was his last book), and it would have been very much in the interests of the limited circle to keep their mouths shut. But there remained Mr. Vulliamy. If only this review had been for any other paper than the Spectator. . . .

As it is there is nothing for it but to face the facts and admit honestly that Prodwit, skilfully edited by Mr. Vulliamy, has split on the literary racket. It is not only reviewers who have been exposed. No one is spared. Novelists, poets, biographers, pub- lishers (" torpid in the afternoon "), booksy folk of every twist and turn will here find the shabbiest, most jealously guarded secrets of their trade revealed to all the world. Whether you write like this: "He vividly remembered the smell of boot-blacking in the outhouse, always associated with his mother's uncle, Twm Evans. . . ."

or like this : " Damnation,' cried the mate as he stared over the focs'le rail, What in hell do you make of that yonder? ' " or whether you merely transcribe passages from Sir Walter Scott into monosyllabic gangsterese, you and all your "standard fittings " are here mercilessly on show.

Looked at in another way this may be described as a very useful book. Accomplished practitioners will, of course, have long been familiar with most of the tricks analysed and classified in it—indeed how else would they be so accomplished ?—and let one feels there is none so hard-boiled that he may not learn a thing or two from Mr. Prodwit. As for beginners, the book is a godsend. For Mr. Prodwit's claim that he can show you how to make a lawful—he will not say, honest—living out of literature by the mastering of a few basic principles is a fair one. You or I could do it—that is the theme of Mr. Prodwit's book. What—me write history, this sort of thing ?- " Although the doings of. the King were troublesome, and one may, I suppose, fairly describe them as unlawful. . . ."

Certainly. Merely turn to the passage in J. R. Green beginning : " Vexatious indeed and illegal as were the proceedings of the Crown. . . ."

In short, Mr. Vulliamy has written a very entertaining piece of satire—a revelation to the simple, a textbook for the sly, a deflator of vanities, a tonic after 'flu. In the words used by a reviewer in the Scrutiniser for one of Prodwit's own earlier works, " a book to buy and read and re-buy and re-read indefinitely."