1 NOVEMBER 1946, Page 28

St. Malachy's Court. By Olivia Robertson. (Peter Davies. 8s. 6d.)

MISS ROBERTSON supervised a playground attached to a block of flats in a Dublin suburb ; and she gives you Dublin slum life at its lowest and gayest. She deals in badness of all kinds— dirt, mental deficiency, madness, deformity, tuberculosis, hunger— but it is all salted with such humour that you laugh as you read, even though a social condemnation is implied. To Miss Robertson nothing is really evil. The begging woman (who likes her baby to have impetigo so that she can appeal the more to pity) speaks with pride of her trade. The idiot boy, Christopher Keegan, " had an invariable smile of heavenly sweetness." The background includes model flats already dirty and haunted with ghosts ; decayed

eighteenth-century houses, now tenements; where a deaf- blind woman lives in a black basement. ospital, police station, a funeral, even the mortuary, are there, yet still it is a comedy—a poetic comedy with the children singing ancient traditional songs, girls of fourteen bedizening themselvs to go out with " fellers " and death as an interesting visitor. Possibly Miss Olivia invents a little at times—one hopes she does, at any rate, in her ghoulish description of the hospital—but you get the genuine slum picture: rich primitive swarming life. The end of the book is a little scrappy. There is a country interlude and then a historic disquisition on the various invasions of Ireland and the family trees of the Dublin families. It is not quite as entertaining as the rest, but it insists that the people of the past were as real as today and not the gods and heroes of the A.E. tradition, and in any case by this time you like Miss Robertson so much you are glad of anything from her. The book is illustrated by her own sketches—which, though unequal, show in the best the same verve and humour as her writing.