20 NOVEMBER 1959, Page 44

Sick and Tired

Poor No More. By Robert Ruark. (Hamish Hamilton, 25s.) JOHN BRAINE'S new novel is illicitly titled. What happened to it in the writing is not my business, but once the Vodi drop out—and they do, less than halfway through—we are left with the drab story of Dick Corvey, an ineffectual young man with TB. A school chum of his had invented the Vodi. Small, subterranean and grubby, dancing widdershins round their vast leader, lusty four- toothed Nelly, they were responsible for all the unjust suffering in the world. 'There was nothing you could do about it if Nelly didn't like you: that summed it all up.' Mr. Braine's pages are littered with stock-responsiveness—memories are cudgelled, bony fingers wag, and nurses bustle and pop in and out—but some of the early ones come very much alive with the boys',funny bitter myth of the Vodi. The construction seems slap- dash: several flashbacks trace Dick's adolescence and return to his dreary Northern town after the war, his early amorous fumblings, his mother's death, the betrayal by a girl-friend and the failure of his father's shop. But some of this may be leading somewhere, the easy envy and self-pity may have interesting outcrops while the Vodi- half-child's game, half-symbol of something larger—still breathe. With their departure--Dick exorcises them in confessional to a nurse he has fallen for—there is nothing left but a tubercular ruminating, at random, whether or not to live after all. Dick's bitterness is shown as too quirky and pathological, his nascent ambitions too re- stricted, to engage sympathy. Just as Joe Lampton was almost mysteriously endowed with animal magnetism, so Dick winces under a cripplingly gratuitous inertia. Life, as for Lampton, is a

complex of possessions and trade-names, this time without any useful irony. With his girl 'from the beginning it had been a Bordeaux and State Express 555 relationship.' This sort of shorthand reads back hollowly when as over-indulged as it is here. Perhaps the most striking indication of a slackened grasp comes when we are suddenly in- troduced into the nurse's pitying mind after in- habiting only Dick's, or the author's, for so much of the tale.

The firmness of Miss Howard's grasp of her material is never at issue. She controls The Sea Change with a tart, sometimes epigrammatic., intelligence unfalteringly throughout its con- siderable length. What might come into question is the inherent quality of her material. Four people tell the story in turn, or rather three, since Emmanuel Joyce, the sixtyish Irish-Jewish play- wright,, is treated in a circumspect third person. The others are Lillian, his sickly frivolous wile. Jimmy, his devoted young producer and per- manent house-guest, and Alberta, his new ingenue secretary. The nub of the story, which ranges over London, New York and a Greek island, is the effect Alberta has upon the sophisti- cated mess in which she finds herself : Lillian is reconciled to the long-cherished loss of her baby and Emmanuel to an unphilandering old age by the end. As in other novels by women of great talent, there's a quantity of unattached sensitivity on display; but the portrait of a tender, irascible man of genius is amazingly touched in. Where charm almost drowns intelligence is in Alberta's naive-clever reactions to her swiftly changing en- vironments, both physical and emotional; impos- sible to accept her quiet acceptance of the leading role in Emmanuel's new play: hard to stomach the scene where she and the greatest unsung

ographer in America beautifully establish a tic rapport. And some of the entries in the s diary are quite resistibly fey. But even when air is at its most nobly rarefied there is the e of a solid, approachable, recognisable world eath.

tr. Rickard's first novel, The Lovely Awful htg, asks a good deal more of the reader and s a good deal less, but the first half, at least, ards perseverance. A man sits on the edge of iff, looking down at the sea. He sees a yacht, ulates, later a boat, speculates, urinates. ulates, and finally notices a woman's foot king out from behind a rock on the beach Ow, when the book finishes in an abominable

dm not referring to what happens to the dead Y the foot turns out to be attached to) cres- do of self-intoxicated verbiage. If 1 quoted

lie sentences from this very odd work, you Old be discouraged (frightful phrases like 'the ter of irk' abound); all I can do is signal the to original humour of some of the speculations; life goes ticking on in dismembered fragments brain, the colossal human effort that would be wired to produce the million effects of sunlight er a small area of sea, the hazards of making ter where seagulls circle.

Poor No More is so easy to read it really isn't rth it: you could make up your own. Mr. ark's pointlessly long novel limps after the d-by-bed career of Craig Price, a self-made erican tycoon, from the scraping college days the drunken millionaire nights. A few pages e illuminated by a toughish sense of fun, but funniest section of the book is unintentionally where Craig and his stupendous new mistress k culture. 'Let's have a look at these books. . . . ntlun. Mark Twain. All right. Conrad. The mes boys. Unread—or at least unre-read. Good.

All the Russians, also undog-eared. Hemingway. Steinbeck, thank God, rubbed slick. . . . Ye compleat Ev-lyn Waugh. I like his brother better. . . .' There's a lot more and 'all the world- weary boys from England' take a beating farther