Quagmire. By Henry K. Marks. (Peter Davies. 7s. 6d.) Something to his Advantage. By W. F. Morris. (Bles. 7s. 6d.) Summer Time Ends. By John Hargrave. (Constable. 10s.) The Island. By Claire Spencer. (Rich and Cowan. 7s. 6d.) Dust Over the Ruins. By Helen Ashton. (Gollancz. 7s. 6d.) Portrait of the Bride. By Betty Miller. (Gollancz. 7s. 6d.) To-Morrow is also a Day. By Romilly Cavan. (Dent. 7s. 6d.) Mr. Theobald's Devil. By Anna Gordon Keown. (Macmillan.
7s. ad.) World D. By Hal. P. Trevarthen. (Sheed and Ward. 7s. 6d.) ALTHOUGH it is usual to single out for review in these columns novels which are in some degree outstanding, or at least less unworthy. of recommendation than the greater number that publishers .help to introduce into the world, it sometirnes happens that novels are mentioned here not because they
specially deserve to be read but because better ones are at the moment lacking or because their peculiarities serve to illustrate some tendency. Round about the end of the year the publishers' bombardment eases off a . little, and the reviewer has leisure to examine some of those projectiles which might otherwise escape his notice, and perhaps also some of those which have failed to explode. Pints of ink, reams of paper, and much industry have gone to the making of the nine books on this list, besides a certain amount of sincerity, experience and thought, but diligence is not rare, ink and paper are cheap and easily obtainable, even slugs enjoy experiences and are no doubt incapable of duplicity, and processes of thought go on even in the brains of bores and blockheads. Presumably these books have been written to varying extents for pleasure or in the hope of obtaining appreciation and money, but we all like to look forward to a possibility of being patted on the back or receiving a cheque : what we have the right tol ook for in a novel is what we like to find in an individual—a character, estimable and unique, even on a small scale. And how are we served on this occasion ?
First we are served with a case-history. Quagmire is an account by an American neurologist of the lifelong fixation of a man's emotional life upon his mother. Directly told, scientific, relentless, and incontrovertible, this story leads • the reader on in a state of horrid fascination to the moment where the ageing, invalid mother threatens to kill herself if the son carries out his intention to marry. An unappetising slice of life dished up au naturel, it should serve as an awful Avarning to any mothers or sons whose weakness of character is likely to lead them into an excessive and sterile dependence on one another. Now for doubts about a corpse. Something to his Advantage is a thoroughly unassuming tale of amateur detection in East Anglia. Without any subtleties or frills,
it is a light tale of the kind that many people enjoy when they need relaxation in the form of a mild mystery, and it
is by the author of a novel which Sir John Squire considers the best of the English War-books, and of another novel which Punch has described as "a good sound holiday yarn." That there is virtue in Mr. Morris's simplicity is evident when one takes up (with some muscular effort) Summer Time Ends. Mr. John Hargrave, like many other people, is con- cerned about the problem of poverty in the midst of plenty. He expresses his concern in "three hundred thousand words of dalliance, love, conception, birth, and death' . . . hope, useless effort, success, disappointment and stolen pleasure " ; in nearly nine hundred jerky, flickering pages. He does not care two hoots about sueh little nuisances as capital letters and full stops. A social conscience is a worthy thing, but his satire would be more telling if it were neater.
We now come to five novels by women. Not one of them, I think, could be read with much pleasure by the average male novel-reader, though the first has an over-emphasis which might stir a torpid imagination. Another shows an embarrassingly lush and feminine insistence on lovable awkwardness as the attribute of a very young man. Another contains detailed accounts of expensive furniture, food and clothes,. as on the woman's page of; a .newspaper. Another suggests a very young and inexperienced woman frying to be charming, subtle and sophisticated behind a smear otlipstick and a couple of smudges of mascara, and only succeeding in being mannered and ebullient. Yet another aims at fragrance, and fails to hit the mark. Miss Claire Spencer in The Island •
is by way of- helping her readers to strong meat and cold comfort. Her island is suitably remote and northerly ; on
it are two brothers, and their mother certainly hit the nail on - the head when she said, "Tut, there was none like them any- where around." First there is a difficulty, over "the fey Lucy Morrisy " (I quote the blurb) ; then a deep depression• is signalled, " and through that storm an atmosphere of brooding tragedy surrounds the lives of the island folk " ; fraternal feeling becomes a "red horror " ; a dark Spanish woman ; arrives and "weaves her spells " ; and as is only becoming in a " powerful " story, revenge, murder and sudden death are not far behind. Dust Over the Ruins, Miss Helen Ashton's _ thirteenth book, is written with all the efficiency that is to be found in the fiction magazines, and has the advantage of an unhackneyed setting—an archaeological site in the Arabian desert—which affords the double opportunity of describing exotic scenery and isolating a group of characters. Valentine Meredith, beautiful and experienced, has a disagreeable
husband but finds a chivalrous admirer in callow Robin Cary, a "shy boy" with "clumsy limbs," who "stammers uncer-
tainly" before her, "mumbles absurdly," "flinches," "red- dens," "absurdly stumbles" towards her "like a dog to its mistress," gets "hot with shame," and, when the "big man" (Meredith) gives him a "savage look," not only stammers but "chokes." At the end humiliation still "burns in his cheeks," and Valentine wisely sticks to her husband. In Portrait of the Bride one Rhoda is married to Bernard, a publisher, who says,
"I'm afraid you do have rather a dull time all day. I wish I could be with you more—but you know how things are! This . . This year's going to be a very critical one for the firm, you know." Rhoda is bored : "You don't understand what it can be for a woman when the glamour, the romance begin to go, to go for ever—" She finds Somebody Else with "a smoothly shaven olive-dark cheek," but pulls up just in time, has a baby, and settles down to "a new sense of comradeship."
To-Morrow is also a Day is remarkable for a straining after effect which often lapses into complete meaninglessness. For instance, "David was confidently beyond the reach of cir- cumstance, a particular mundane godliness upholding him in his own proud image." The sun does not do anything so simple as setting in Miss Cavan's pages : no, "the afternoon falls away on a sweet dilution of twilight." If a man comes home at the end of summer we are told that "it was no autumn to which he returned, yet this seemed summer sheathed with defensive economy." And we are not spared quiddities of style, such as an omission of the article : "Falling into familiar trap of his own conjuring, he stretched his mind to meet abnormal trancement, all perception strained, for the illimitable." But we need not stretch our minds to remember Mrs. Amanda Ros. The title chosen by Miss Anna Gordon Keown suggests something between Mr. T. F. Powys and Miss Sylvia Townsend Warner, but no, Miss Keown wallows in a bogus rural quaintness of her own devising, com- pounded of a spaniel, a sweet spinster called Miss Anne in a manor house, and a clergyman whose aggressive innocence neither suggests holiness nor provokes mirth. With its Pounces, Poozles, and Pippitts, Steeple Bambury is indeed a far-flung outpost of the whimsy of yesteryear.
Finally, with World D, we take up a curiosity of literature which is wonderful in its unreadability. By way of being a pseudo-scientific romance, it contains such passages as this : '
"If the potential-collage curve were only a parabola the potential would rise as the square of the cellage, but since it is a catenary the potential rises exponentially, upon a base which is greater than two . . . For a practical mental picture think of a very slack cable dangling from two points ever so high up, and six hundred yards apart, and so that the loop is an inch from the ground. That inch represents Grandpa's unaided brain." .
And what does this lead to ? Believe it or not, it leads, by the most roundabout and ineffectual ways imaginable, to pro- paganda against birth control. "The eontraceptionist is a coward, a- heretic . . . Ccintraception is a filthyF thing, a hellish thing', &e., &c." It Ahoidd be more widely' known that the writing of good novels is a difficult thing, a not easily attainable thing.