10 DECEMBER 1948, Page 38

4ti Owl in the Sun. By Leslie Kark. (Macmillan. 7s.


REGULARLY every two years or so a remarkable comet startles the darkness of the literary heavens. Accustomed to the orthodox con- stellations, to a fixed recognisable North Star, but above all to the kness, earthbound traffic falters ; people stop and stare. It is 5. then nothiel- by"-Mi. Henry- Green. Already-, is...a -PlienOrnenon,

r. Green is coming to be accepted, peculiar perhaps but familiar lace the fiery shapes and dews of blood in Shakespeare's plays. tellecnials find, with some. justificktion, that he interprets better , an any other contemporary writer 't& ielationship of the individual to the chaos of our time. Low-brow dailies review at length books of his which cart surely cause only bewilderment and dismay among the vast majority of the dailies' readers. Professional• middle-brows hint that he is pretentious. These are the goings-on that one associates with the establishment (in the sense that the Church is established) of a genius. Has Mr. Green, in fact, done anything to deserve this ? After reading his latest novel, Concluding, the wary reader will continue to suspend judgement, and lest -this should seem disparaging let the wary reader also ask himself how many other writers he is prepared to keep an open mind about after their eighth books.

" Life is not a series of gig-lamps symmetrically arranged," wrote Virginia Woolf, discussing the stuff of the novel. " Life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." Mr. Green is one of the very few living novelists who is really concerned with this ," luminous halo," and, because without concern for it we can expect no work of art, his work is of the greatest importance. Mr. Green has a vision of life in terms of light and colour and humour and pity and good and evil, and it is of this visionary setting of- his characters' lives that he writes rather than of the down,to-earth_ character' within the halo. (He is there on the page as well of course, but the emphasis is on the halo.) And in Concluding we read of the halo surrounding one day many years in the future—a day in the life of an old scientist, Mr. Rock, who lives on sufferance in the grounds of an eighteenth-century house now run as a State training institute for adolescent girl civil servants. The sinister headmistresses, `Edge and Baker, resent his presence fundamentally because they hate and fear the values of the old humanistic regime from which he springs. It is a day charged with emotion for everyone—for Edge and Baker because two girls have escaped from the institute on the very day of the annual dance, for Mr. Rock's daughter Elizabeth because she is in love with one of the tutors, and for Mr. Rock because he fears to lose her. Mr. Green writes of this emotional atmosphere with all the magic of a poet and with considerable humour. (He tan be one of our very few really funny writers.) In a way he was wise to choose the future as his setting because it legitimises much of the fantasy and unreality of the story. This feeling of unreality has made some readers of his earlier books uncomfortable. It is the danger spot of all poetic novel writing. For after all the fascinat- ing thing about human beings is the combination of the "luminous halo " with being so pathetically down-to-earth. Occasionally in Concluding Mr. Green seems a little drunk with his own heady wine and, like any drunk man, repeats himself and elaborates unnecessarily. A novel, unlike a poem, must be .read straight through, and one sometimes resents the practical joker in Mr. Green who makes this difficult.

The only other writer. on this list who comes anywhere near Mr. Green's class is Mr. McLaverty. He is humbler, less ambitious, and, it must be admitted, for that reason less exciting. Which is not to say that one would have him try and be anything else. One may regret that a donkey is not a zebra but would not have him painted with black stripes. Mr. McLaverty is far ton sensitive a chronicler of the lives of his Northern Ireland small-trader family not to be aware of the " luminous halo " which surrounds them. It is just that he does- not presume to look at it. He is content to lay Bob, the small town miser, D. J.; the delightful waster, and the rest before you with the minimum of comment and:the maximum of careful cumulative characterisation. Their lives are not particularly exciting—the knocking out of D. J. at a race meeting is the most startling event—and readers who like -a plot to be taut will' find The Three Brothers too slack and slow. But these are at least, real lives, and they are described with conipassion. dr. Karl's An Owl in the Sun is disappointing. The hero is an anglicised Frenchman who for all his vacillating character takes the reader in familiar man-of-the-world fashion through-the past ten years of his life—his introduction to cosmopolitan society in Turkey just before the war, his fascination by and marriage with a ravishingly beautiful girl who may be a Nazi spy and certainly has a past. The marriage leads to inevitable disaster aggravated by the Frenchman's lightning five years in a German prison camp. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with Mr. Kark's plot (jealousy as a subject gives a wonderful chance to a novelist) ; it is just that it all remains strangely unconvincing. And though references to D. H. Lawrence, Freud and Proust are scattered over the text, there remains about it the false sophistication of the chocolate advertisement. Which all goes td show that it isn't nearly as easy to write like Somerset Maughani as some people think. . The last two books are light entertainment, the sort of thing that is traditionally supposed to help with railway journeys. Iii Full Circle Mr. Cecil has ingeniously strung together on a single narrative sixteen very readable, very superficial short stories, most of- them centring in one form or another on the law courts. Only towards the end is he reduced to making his hero read one of the stories in a magazine. Mr. Hamilton's Let Him Have Judgement is about an unattractive " hanging Judge " who finds himself on trial for murder. The first half of the book holds the attention well but the trial itself -is a little dull because there is nothing new to tome out of it except the verdict. Mr. Hainilton's style is cold and objective, would-be early ;Graham Greene. A little self-consciously so perhaps.- It would carry more conviction if there were fewer. sen- tences like " Buying a ticket and descending to the platform,. he