12 MARCH 1954, Page 30

New Novels

In Love. By Alfred Hayes. (Gollancz. 10s. 6d.) THE atmosphere of Mr..Hayes's book is that of an aquarium ; a stuffy Still aquarium seen somehow at the end of an illness, on the first afternoon out, when the grasp of reality is not yet sure and the dimly- moving fish live in the lingering mood of the illness. Mr. Hayes's three characters : the narrator who loves a woman and loses her, the woman, and the man who gets her, swim round their dark tank with silent, inevitable pointlessness, while he notes each ripple and Wriggle, an ichthyologist who doesn't like fish much.

Mr. Hayes's inverted, repetitive, comma-freckled style is, as you can see, catching. It has a drugged rhythm to it, a lulling insidious- bess like a radio playing a long way away. At moments it is capable Of rare delicacy of analysis and allows Mr. Hayes to say some true rind cruel things about the pleasure of love. At other times it becomes is compound parody of all the subjective styles : a kind of hysterical Virginia Woolf who's bumped into Raymond Chandler in a saloon tnn by Gertrude Stein : The phone rang. I answered it. It was somebody wanting some- body named Eddie Cohen. I said to the bartender : is there some- body here named Eddie Cohen ?

The bartender called : Eddie Cohen here ?

There was no Eddie Cohen. I told whoever it was at the other end of the phone that there was no Eddie Cohen.

Despite this kind of twaddle (which admittedly occurs often enough to be annoying) In Love achieves, at its own level, a certain success. The woman is minutely observed and her two lovers make sense in relation to her character. But it's still the stuffy, dead atmosphere that stays with you when the book's finished, the smells and sounds of the aquarium itself and not the shapes of the fish. The narrator talks of :

This sense, that's hard to describe, of permanent loss ; of having somewhere committed an error of a kind or a mistake of a kind that can never be rectified, of having made a gesture of a sort that can never be retracted.

Middlemarch was made from this sense ; but Mr. Hayes, rather than moving away to'create something new from his guilt, prefers to move backwards into it. And brilliantly as he does so, In Love remains a case-history rather than a novel.

What particular national bug it is that makes Mr. Hayes say "an error of a kind or a mistake of a kind" rather than say one thing once I don't know. But the same sort of mannerisms, the same clumsily simple language also weigh down The Laughing Matter. 'A Serious Story,' says Mr. Saroyan underneath his title, to make sure we don't get the wrong idea. It's not very easy to, really.' There is a man called Evan Nagarenus who has a wife, two children and an older brother. When this man goes for a holiday with his wife and children to his brother's farm his wife tells him that she is with child by another man who is this man's friend. The man is cross. His wife agrees to an abortion which the man's brother arranges. After it, she commits suicide. At her funeral the man's brother drops dead with a heart attack. When the man gets home there's a letter from his wife's lover to say that he too has committed suicide. Now the man is very sad. He drives off to his wife's inquest, a tyre bursts and his car falls over a cliff.

And finally he felt the laughter. It was an accident, though. It was one accident after another, ending in laughter.

Well, that is the moral of Mr. Saroyan's little story. Aficionados of Mr. Greene will realise quickly enough that laughter equals grace and so it's a very beautiful book. Simpler people will feel that tnis grace business is really getting a bit tough. To take Mr. Saroyan seriously (as his permanent standing as the best potential writer in America demands), something has obviously gone very wrong with the American Dream that he has so often talked about. The Laughing Matter is conceived and planned at a more serious level than any of the earlier books. And the result of this planning, this toughness of plot ? A book which fails to move, as some of the bitter-sweet early stories moved, because the words aren't there to translate the pity and the love which Mr. Saroyan very clearly (and, it's plain, sincerely) feels for people trapped in the maze of people. The words are twisted now with inbred special meanings, they can't carry the load of complicated thought that a book with a central theme of grace must carry.

There is no help for such strangers as myself, except love.

says Evan Nazarenus's wife, as they try to find themselves after having been apart, and • Which of us knows who he is, Evan, except out of love ?

Yes, that is a way of saying it (not altogether satisfactory) ; and no, that is not the way people say it. The words and the rhythms have got out of touch with people and with people's speech and for this reason Mr.. Saroyan fails to convince or convert. The Laughing Matter is a kind. of private Grand Guiguol ; the horror's too big for the words and, after a while, too much to believe. To turn from the writhings of two serious professional novelists to the straightforward amateurishness of Folly Farm is like leaving Chatterley's library for a walk with the gamekeeper. This last book of Dr. toad's which he wrote to amuse himself, as he lay dying, hasn't a trace of self-pity in it or (blessedly) of self; denigration it rattles and rants and roars, it blasts the muses and it mocks progress, it is blithely innocent of plot and is altogether the kind of utterly sensible fun that Joad, at hiS best and burliest, was himself- Modelled overtly on Peacock's dialogue novels, the best lines all go to Mr. Longpast (a heartily Joadian character) who. dislikes blanc. mange, armaments, sandwiches, Service departments, the Empire, the Welfare State, coniferous trees, modern education, Christopher Fry, fish-paste—the list is as long as the likes : the Downs, claret, young women, Alden's Oxford sausages of fifty years ago, mountains —and so on and so on. This is good talk, warm talk, healthy as nut, with a swing and a swagger to it that make you fill your lungs, stuffed with prejudice, stiff with righteousness, all too short, and all too last.