6 SEPTEMBER 1946, Page 20


The River. By Rumer Godden. (Michael Joseph. 7s. 6d.)

From Such a Seed. By George Martelli. (Cape. 8s. 6d.)

Billy Potter. By Doreen Wallace. (Collins. 8s. 6d.)

The Thursday Tigkey Murders. By Craig Rice. (Nicholson and

Watson 8s. 6d.7

RIMER GODDEN'S new novel The River is a study of a family of European children living beside a river in a jute-pressing works near a little town in Bengal ; and in particular a study of one of them. Many writers have looked into the hearts of children—but too many have taken an indecent pleasure in the art of child-watching, aware of their own cleverness. Miss Godden is dead right about her observation of the young, but she records it in a scientific way. Unemotional, not in any sense amused by her own comments, she draws no more particular attention to her description of the children than to her description of a tree or of the river. It is the work of an exceptionally well-balanced understanding. Observation and discretion have been equal partners in it, and since Miss Godden founds her characters in the classic way—not in physical descrip- tions but in living dialogue—even her smallest creations stand out. That her writing has charm is a second consideration. The impor- tant thing is that it has truth. The River is little more than a hundred pages long. Yet it would be difficult, and unprofitable, to summarise it. The story flows evenly along like the river beside the children's home in India. It will not stay to be analysed. The reviewer can only report that it is a book with 'few faults. From Such a Seed has many faults, but it starts well. The Mobile Combat Mental Rehabilitation Unit has been invented in Washington to satisfy the public clamour for the re-education of the victims of Fascism, and Professor Porteous of the Chair of Spiritual Values at the university Of Oxford, Ohio,- been chosen to command it in order to avoid a squabble between the Board of Social Sanity and the office of Moral Improvement. In the opening cliapter we meet the professor, dressed up as a colonel, hastening to Algiers in the wake of the invading armies. As a starting point for a satirical novel nothing could be more promising. Unfortunately, with the exception of one minor character (Murdstock, a good figure of fun), From Such a Seed has nothing satirical about it. As a straight record of familiar futilities it is well done. But as a novel, as an entertainment, it is too like what really does happen in such places and in such conditions. If any officer working in North Africa had kept a full diary this is the sort of story he might have got together. There is here too good a picture of general confusion and not sufficient main design to hold the reader's interest. There is merit in the book. It truthfully records an unpleasant story— but it lingers in the mind only in the way that newspaptr reports of the real thing still cling uncomfortably in the memory. It is not a well-planned novel, and the reader cannot help feeling Cheated of the satire which the opening chapter promised him.

Billy Potter tells the story of Tan East Anglian village boy, an unwanted child who lives his short life as truant, poacher, labourer, tramp, fair-man and soldier, mixing lawlessness and affrontery with tenderness and courage. The first half of this book is very enjoy- able for Miss Wallace's pictures of the countryside and of child- hood are convincing. But her adult country beyond the village is another world—the world of romance. There is a natural kink in women which makes them ever ready to sacrifice their lives and the lives of other people in the service of an idiot. Miss Wallace is right there—but most of the other loving kindness which fills the second part of her book is not in nature. A great many people will enjoy this story—but it will not be because they like to see things as- they are.

Whether things are as they are in The Thursday Turkey Murders it is difficult, at this distance from America, to say. As an exercise in the art of detection the book is certainly nonsense • but it is written with a humour unusual in detective stories and contains several pleasant encounters. • •