21 SEPTEMBER 1956, Page 28

Not So Odd

THE sub-title of James Turner's The Dolphin's Skin (Cassell, 21s.) is 'six studies in eccen- tricity' and it consists of essays on Margaret Duchess of Newcastle, Edmund Hickeringill, William Jennens, Scheming Jack Gains- borough, Richard Rigby and Edward Fitz- gerald. As the author has thus committed himself to proving that each of these is an eccentric, he is constantly forcing square facts into round premisses. None of the six he writes about really comes under the heading of eccentric at all, if we use, say, Timbs as our guide. Indeed, Mr. Turner himself doesn't seem too happy about his theme; talking of Gainsborough (the painter's brother) he says: 'He is the perfect example of an eccentric, one definition of which must surely be, a genius who didn't quite come off.' This is very thin.

This weakness in definition also affects Mr. Turner's style. His favourite literary device seems to be the 'narrative of thought,' an irritating method when it comes from the author's imagination.

The final effect of the book is of a visit to one of those families where, we are assured, everyone is quite mad. Just as, invariably, these families turn out to be monuments of dullness, so does The Dolphin's Skin never cat, fire. It would have been a much better

book if the author had followed the method of Four Portraits, instead of clinging to an angle he can't sustain, DAVID STONE