5 OCTOBER 1934, Page 28

Fourmillante Cite

The Invaders. By William Plomer. (Cape. 7s. 6d.) 6ouot. in the middle of the last century described a function of the ambitious writer which Mr. Plomer might have had in mind when writing his new novel : " to bring to the surface what is always before men's sight • and is unseen by their indifferent eyes ; to present bold and distinct to every- one's sight all that is hidden in the often cold, petty, everyday Characters with which our path through life swarms." Writing which succeeds in this purpose as brilliantly as does Mr. Plomer's enforces on the reader, together with his admira- tion at the writer's skill, a sense of the waywardness of his own powers of perception. Mr. Plomer does not probe for strangeness in his subject-matter : much of the material in his novel is of the kind which seems in retrospect as much familiar as new ; familiar because after Mr. Plomer's account the reader realizes that he has encountered its subject or something like it himself, new because he has not had the vision to apprehend it or to relate it to his experience as a -*hole: Spiritual 'tend philosophic depth is needed. as well as acuteness of perception to transform the commonplace into a work of creative art, and it is philosophic depth that one notices above all in Mr. Plomer's writing. We do not feel merely that we have seen a subject treated from an original point of view, nor even as we do occasionally with a few gifted contemporary writers that we have seen a treatment superior to any that has been attempted before : we feel that he has seen something as a whole and in its proper context with the rest of human experience, where previotis writers have seen it only isolated or at . best related to a part of experience. His account has the unforced com- pleteness of a poetic statement. The point of view is implicit, not affixed.

The scene of his novel is contemporary London. Tice invaders who give the book its title are a number of young people of the. working. class who come up to London from the provinces in search of a living. The lives of a group of them are drawn together round a well-to-do Kensington family. One of them, Mavis Steel, secures a post as a servant in the house ; another of them, Tony Hart, happens to assist Nigel Edge, who lives there with his cousin and her father —an arthritic colonel, a martyr to the proprieties and Wild West novels—after he has had a fall outside a tube station, and as a result is offered work there cleaning the windows ; there he meets Mavis and forms an attachment with her. Mavis has a brother, Chick, • who has come up to London to join the army ;- he happens to leave the house after visiting his sister as Nigel is coming in, and their chance meeting is the beginning of a close companionship.. The affection between Nigel and Chick provides the central situation of the book. Nigel is a lonely and perplexed young man who has been left by the War with no confidence in the life of conventional and well-to-do respectability foi which his upbringing is supposed to have prepared him, but without the opportunity to carve the personal niche it the structure of society which he desires. He feels no sense of solidarity with either his own class or with his contem- poraries. Both Tony Hart and Chick Steel are of a different social grade and a different generation from his own, and, as one of his objects in first giving Tony the opportunity to clean the windows of his uncle's house had been to introduce new blood into the domestic routine of the house- hold,. so he admits them to his own affection.to some extent with the idea of bringing as it were new blood into the routine of his own interests. His friendship with Tony remains uncomplicated and unemotional, but his con- panionship with. Chick becomes more important to him, more intimate, and more disturbing as the defects in Chick's character emerge. Finally his friendship with Chick becomes too unsatisfactory to be maintained and is broken off. But the experience has had its value for Nigel's development. He no longer feels altogether clisoriente in his relationg with life. • " He felt as if he knew where he was."

Though the relationship between Chick and Nigel is Mr. Plomer's most important and most absorbing theme, it does not restrict the scope of his book. In effect it is a :icily of the post-War world. The different currents of action which spring, immediately or indirectly, from the various members of the Kensington household are followed through the lodging-houses, the barracks, the police-courts, the coffee-Stalls, in which the lives of the invaders who have become involved with them move. London is not merely seen,' it is experienced. The pleasure one gets from that experience is intense. It is the pleasure given by a novelist who writes a sensitive and undecorated prose, who obtains his effects by the most subtle and elusive means, who has a sense of values, who has tenderness and sympathy for what is sincere, and a splendid contempt for what is hollow and cheap and pretentious. Mr. Plomer's command of his medium is complete ; -he is never driven from the novelist's province by his indignation, however acute it may be. Ilis criticisms of society remain part of the texture of his book, its pattern is never broken by the obtrusions of a social reformer. The wcrld that is his book is complete and self- contained, like a successful poem: It is the best and most satisfying book that Mr. Plomer has written, which is to say that it is a very fine novel indeed.