27 JANUARY 1950, Page 32


from the Russian by Moura Budberg. (Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Los. 6d.) IN the nature of things, novel-reviewers are perfectionists. It does not follow therefore from the criticism and complaint which are apt to fill this column that none of the week's novels is worth an evening's reading. Your genuine fiction-fancier, after all, will, at a pinch, read anything. Even the novel with no damned artistic nonsense about it—perhaps that sort of novel especially—will often enough provide pleasure or instruction, so that a professional con- fectioner like William le Queux, say, or a respectable bore like Trollope is really no worse for a slating. I don't think any of the four books in the present list is a very satisfactory job, leave alone what is hierophantically called a work of art ; Mr. Llewellyn seems to me to have thrown away a good start and turned slick and sentimental, Mr. Clark over-reaches himself, Mr. Lodwick writes too fast and with too facile and airy a cynicism, and Gorky, except in the first of the five stories in the volume, is merely a metaphysical, tea-drinking Russian writing in, or rather about, a pre-revolutionary void. Yet it is more than likely that all four will be read with interest. Anyhow, they will be read: like Napoleon, on s'engage et pais on mit. A Few Flowers for Shiner is, rather ominously, "dedicated to all workmen," and indeed there are moments when Mr. Llewellyn, before he has uncovered the heart of gold of his American-Italian Princess, is figuratively exclaiming: "Les aristos mix poieaux " In this new novel he seems to be caught up still more self-consciously in the mood of proletarian sympathy of its predecessor, None but the Lonely Heart, a disappointing book after the abundant romantic life and character, the lush but spirited fancy, of How Green Was My Valley. From the compassionate the mood has now changed to the heroic. The scene is Italy during the last stages of the recent fighting there ; the emphatic hero is an Admirable Crichton of a British skilled worker, a Cockney of sense and sensibility, a Man of action and a dreamer, by the name of Snowy. In a truck affec- tionately styled Rosie, Snowy sets off on a journey of a hundred miles or so to give proper burial to the dead Shiner, his comrade in arms. The grey-haired Bill goes with him, and on the way they pick up Max, a sensitive G.I. who has killed a man in battle and is now deserting, and—more unexpectedly—the silk stockinged and imperiously beautiful Princess Castelfalcone with a falcon on her shoulder. The story tells of various small incidents, less or more dramatic, on the journey, pictures something of the destruction in Italy and the suffering of the Italian people, introduces a murderous international gang of black-marketeers, and above all else resumes the complex and difficult brief history of the indeterminate, inarticu- late and, I fear, fabulous love affair between Snowy and the Princess.

It is an adroit and no doubt sincerely studied performance, though in a curious mixture of styles. First impressions are good: the sardonic edge of the dialogue seems unforced and the recurring civilian hungers of Snowy (who has Liz and two small children to think about) and the others carry a degree of sentiment that one would not quarrel with. They are repeated so often, however, the male memories, the frettings, the aching desires punctuate the journey in so uniform and mechanical a fashion, that the cumulative effect is merely novelette-ish. And Snowy's Princess, for all her sophistica- tion, belongs to the country of Maurice Hewlett, while Snowy himself, dazzled and worshipping, goes back to a still earlier and more innocent literary convention. Mr. Llewellyn has some effective realistic passages in this novel, but for the rest has resorted to the more luscious and snobbish make-believe of the cinema to a greater extent than he evidently realises.

As an adventure story The Track of the Cat has atmosphere and a fair degree of rather interrupted excitement. It is about three brothers on a cattle-ranch enclosed by mountains in the American Far West and the hunt for a black panther, a "killer." The narrative is repetitious, and is stretched out to tedious proportions by an assort- ment of obscure little domestic dramas, still more by the portentous magic and mystery of an aged Indian, Joe Sam. There are, however, excellent descriptions, and the long episode in which one of the brothers, the most experienced hunter of the three, falls a victim to his own terror in a snowstorm is very well contrived. Unluckily, Mr. Clark seems to have had in mind much more than an adventure story. The black panther apparently holds, or is meant to hold, something of the cosmic significance of Melville's white whale. This little idea has, I suspect, diverted Mr. Clark's energies, so that his characters are flatter and his narrative mannerisms more tiresomely pronounced than they might otherwise have been.

Mr. Lodwick's latest novel shows signs of over-production on his part. He has inventive energy and a nimble and mocking turn of mind, but is too easily content in this arbitrarily compounded tale of spies, spivs and Spandrells in the neighbourhood of the French Riviera with a superficial liveliness of tone. There is not a lot to be said for a consistently smart way of writing.

The five stories in the Gorky volume were originally published in 1925. Two have not previously been translated into English, while the other three, we are told, have appeared in the United States but not in this country. This is not quite correct ; they were included in a volume printed in America but published here in 1927. Mr. Alan Pryce-Jones introduces the volume with an acute eye for the premeditated " ordinariness " of the life it illustrates, though he has a possibly too high regard for the merits of Gorky's later fiction generally. The title-story, which is easily the best, records in an accent of harsh melancholy the successive stages of a man's grotesquely self-denying passion for a bad but good-look inp actress.