O'BitIEN The Antagonists. By Paul Hervey Fox. (Michael Joseph.
7s. 6d.) •• The Man Who Started Clean. By T. 0. Beachcroft. (Boriswood.'
" He would not listen to me when I said that perfect form was a carcase and that art was only an empty- vessel in which to paur the torrent of a man's belief."
Miss KAY BOYLE, a most accomplished writer, is perhaps herself to some extent threatened by that air of deathliness which can now and then arise from too much formal power, and more than once in this new volume of short stories, The First Lover, one has an embarrassed, tiptoe sensation, as if in the presence of a beautifully laid-out corpse—everything arranged to perfection, flowers and lights, but no breath in the body on the bier. At least, Lydia and the Ring-Doves produced in this reader some such chill and unwillingness. There is a certain chill perhaps throughout the book—but a chill that ennobles on the whole, and arises from the writer's strongly individualistic impression of decorum upon pain. For these two things together, in clash and pattern, are the stuff of her art, and one by one the beautiful, deliberate stories of this collection are economically spun to formalise in a clear and brilliant decoration this, that or the other human anguish. It is an excellent formula, made roomy and free by the author's wit and even her broad sense of the comic—vide One of Ours ; illumined by her vivid interest in shapes and colours ; and rendered particularly exciting by her power to make us take hold ourselves of each story's unstaked values. There are fairy-tale clarifies—in the title-story, for instance ; there is a searching gentleness, as in Black Boy ; thew is a master's power to call up desolation, as in Art Colony. But the stories are uniform in their submission to a strongly marked sense of artistic decorum. Too strongly marked perhaps, in so young a writer—but if so, how good a fault—this sober sense of form, this awareness of art as a " vessel into which to pour the torrent of a man's belief." The torrent flows here—belief in the isolated heart, the restless, civilised spirit, and the vessel holds it steadily, and does not break. It is useless, I suppose, to recommend such highly individualistic work to everyone, but where it does please it will remain with a kind of sober bright- ness in the memory.
Valentine Kataev is an important Russian writer and, his English publishers tell us, "one of the few world figures now writing in Russian." To be a world figure is a large undertaking and those who, like myself, do not know Kataev's work will doubtless approach this novel with some excitement. Let me, therefore, warn all such that the present translation, though having a certain stumbling charm and naïveté, is bad, because it creates confusions about trifles and makes it necessary often to re-read passages which ought to flow quite simply. Indeed, one feels that that, in Russian, is probably the book's great quality—a flowing simplicity of manner. It is a story of Odessa in 1905, the year of the first Russian Revolution, just after the mutiny of the cruiser 'Potemkin.' It deals mainly with two little boys, Petya, the son of a bourgeois, and Gavnlc, a quick-wined _proletarian child, who become involved in the escapes and adventures of a mutinous sailor, Rodion Zhukov. It begins beautifully with chapters describing the return of Petya with his father and little brother to Odessa, after a summer holiday on a farm. The mind and meditations of the nine-year-old boy are examined with great tenderness. and humour, and indeed all through the book Petya, his baby Lrother and all his life and family are perfectly and charmingly presented. The resourceful Gavrik is also a very real creation, but somehow, though so very manly and forthright, more conventional and less interesting than Petya. But the whole story, of the children's gallant and sometimes accidental adventures, of their loyalty to the mysterious sailor, of the WOES and excitements in Russian hearts in that year of struggle and hope—the descriptions of street fights, pogroms, terrorism, courage and poverty, mingled with bright pictures of domestic life, Easter fairs, street games, goby-fishing and all the complica- tions of Petya's gambling—winding up with the sailor's escape into safety, makes a book that is not only tender and charming,
but informative alio along lines that will be new and refreshing for most F.nglish readers. In The Mortal Storm Miss Phyllis. Bottome tells a very inter- , esting story of a family tragedy in Munich in 1933. A girl medical student, daughter of a brilliant Jewish father who has done world service in tuberculosis research and of an aristocratic German mother, meets a peasant boy" in the mountains and forms a friendship with him that ends in love. Hans is a Communist, but Freya's father and mother like him and approve of the friendship. Her stepbrothers, however, and their friend Fritz, who is in loire with Freya, oppose themselves hysterically to the. association, and finally arrange for Hans to be shot just after he has escaped into Austria. Meantime also the Nazi hysteria has brought about the disgrace and arrest of Freya's father, Dr. Toiler. All the bonds of an affectionate and sensitive familY'are hopelessly broken, and the intelligence and courage of the two parents are helpless against the general tragedy. Dr. Toiler dies in prison ; Freya bears Hans' child in his mother's farmhouse in the mountains, and leaves it there to depart to 'pursue her medical studies in America. Her mother, embittered but still full of sanity, stays in Germany with her Nazi sons. The author's method is laborious in places, and a shade sentimental ; her-dialogue is often windy and untrue ; but she has a marked sense of character and of values, and she knows Germany. Her Dr. Toiler is a very gently and carefully-built character, her honest young heroine is attractive and real, and the story bears all the sad marks of being only too authentic.
The Antagonists, by Paul Hervey Fox, can be recommended for its virtues of clear narrative, trim, plain writing, strong character-drawing and absence of sentimentality. The story; sketched out here, might seem ridiculous—of the mathematical genius in the dreary American college who, knowing nothing whatever about life outside his work, in middle life encounters a pleasant, unremarkable woman for whom he conceives the wildest possible infatuation, and who turns out to be a nympho- maniac, of his struggle first into love and away from his old self, then into shocking and brutalising knowledge and finally into degraded determination on lifelong vengeance and surrender to passion and hatred. It is fantastic, and it is not a Sunday School tale, but it is written with perfect coolness, in good English, and the author has a convincing way of creating character, even the character of a mathematical genius. It cannot be suggested for every library list, and beyond its unfussy competence it has no literary importance, but it is an entertaining and robust piece of fiction.
The Man Who Started Clean is a novel which will, I think, prove very interesting to a great number of people, and which I therefore review in some anxiety as, despite its promising theme and good beginning, I confess I found it boring, It is the story of an ordinary, pleasant young man who, after an exciting day, containing a vivid dream of a girl he had once loved, a board meeting at which he is made chairman of a company, and a luncheon at which he quarrels with his fiancee, has a. motor-car accident whiCh leaves him restored to bodily .health but without a vestige of human memory. He recalls nothing of physical, mental or spiritual life, and he is therefore at first apparently a lunatic. But 'a brain specialist diagnoses . what has happened, and he and the medical world generally are very much excited by the phenomenon of a fully grown creature who has to be taught everything about life as if he had just then left the womb: The specialist goes. to work with a will to help this now blank personality to grow. And it does grow, 'quite successfully, but not—one reader thought—very entertainingly. Meantime, while the new Edmund stretches and finds himself, in 'simple life and turning from all-his former activities, by a trick which ' the 'doctor planned memory suddenly reasserts' itself and the old Edmund returns. But it is soon clear that this old Edmund knows nothing of the new one. Thereafter one Edmund alternates with the other with uncontrollable frequency. The problem is to link the two Edmunds, and this is done by the agency of Paula, the girl of the first dreatit. It is all very carefully written—and nothing is missed or left outexcept that imaginative drive or passion which might have made a magnificent problem out of what is in fact only a neat piece of invention.