19 JULY 1957, Page 40

New Novels

Now and again, L. P. Hartley writes a master- piece. Few writers, however, can produce master- pieces every time, so when he is not writing mas- terpieces he writes original, enjoyable, well- ordered novels instead. One may note the fact that the masterpieces are set in the recent past and deal with children, while the good novels have a modern background and are about adults, but there is no reason to assume that he will not one day write a modern masterpiece about adults. The Hireling is not that, but it is as accomplished and absorbing a novel as anyone could wish.

It is really a one-man book. The man is Lead- bitter, a former NCO who is making a success as owner-driver of a hired car but feels lost and lonely in civilian life. The character of Leadbitter has evidently appealed to Mr. Hartley's imagina- tion, and he makes a careful, convincing study of him. The author's method, once he has established his protagonist, is to plunge him or her into a situation where the moral intricacies are over- whelming, and often the strain of the dilemma is relieved by a violent physical denouement. Lead- bitter becomes reluctantly involved with one of his clients, Lady Franklin, a pretty young widow deep in remorseful mourning. The relationship between these two, founded on mutual misunder- standing and yet deeply affecting them both, is brilliantly established and explored. Leadbitter's company frees Lady Franklin from her obsession, which is transferred, in a different form, to him. He becomes the accidental witness to a design for exploiting her and takes confused action in her defence; only after he has been destroyed are the misunderstandings cleared.

One knows from experience that Mr. Hartley's limpid style and expert narrative technique can conceal depths of symbolic meaning : in The Go- Between and The Shrimp And The Anemone the symbolism was interwoven so subtly with the themes that it was both clear and profound, while in The Boat, My Fellow Devils and A Perfect Woman it was an intriguing but somewhat teasing element. The Hireling makes use of symbols— drawn curtains, a medallion of St. Christopher— but the basic theme is nearer the surface than is often the case with this author. It is a tale of knight errantry transposed and distorted in his best ironic vein. The fact that two subsidiary characters, stylised villains, are far from convinc- ing matters little : who cares about the dragon when Leadbitter makes so memorable a knight and Lady Franklin, though traditionally paler, is so appealing a maiden in distress?

Rhys Davies, that excellent writer of short stories, has produced a novel of distinction in The Perishable Quality. His heroine is a genial, amoral beauty, who after a life of promiscuity achieves in middle-age both wisdom and adroit- ness. She is introduced escaping from a young lover and a Soho pub-crawling impasse to her native Welsh town. Her early life there is re- called; her seduction by a much older man and her love for a young miner dying of tuberculosis, two episodes which established the pattern of her later emotional experience. She has always found security in mildly erotic father-daughter relation' ships, but has remained susceptible to the Poig' nant beauty of youth; her final rejection of thy "perishable quality' is the novel's theme. The re' miniscent chapters are the best in the book • the) ' have a dream-like distinctness and that hart' poetry often found in Welsh writing. The section dealing with Soho Bohemia (which includes sketch of Dylan Thomas) is rather banal in cony parison; but when the young lover follows bet home, his blue jeans conspicuous in the milling town where the feudal atmosphere of the pioneer; ing days has been replaced by a drabber air 01 provincial prosperity, the author's gift of story' telling keeps one anxious to know what win follow. Eva Pritchard is a delightful character. and Mr. Davies goes deep into her mind and, heart; he has written an admirably accomplished novel.

Snow Country is one of the most fascinatingly ambiguous novels I have read. In some ways it resembles a love story by Turgenev : the sensuous beauty of the setting (a hot-springs resort on the west coast of the main island-of Japan, with its tunnels of snow, maple leaves and cherry blos' soms), the selfish, irresolute hero, the antithetical heroines, the consciousness of decay in passion and of bitterness behind romance. Edward G" Seidensticker, the excellent translator, explains in an introduction that Yasunari Kawabata write' in the tradition of the seventeenth-century masters, of haiku: tiny poems that bring about a fusion 01 opposites. Thus nothing in this novel is without its complementary contradiction, and the super: ficially tentative effect is based on a geometries' structure as strong as steel. The dialogue on occa' sion recalls Waiting For Godot in its use of the non sequitur; but a closer comparison would be with Henry Green, for the colloquial incong" quence follows an inner harmony. Several read' ings of this book would be necessary before its various subtleties could be fathomed : possibly no Western reader could ever do so. Yet the''' are no obstacles in the way of its immediate en: joyment—as a parable on the denial of love, f01 its wonderfully observed Geisha heroine, for the distinction of its allusive style and for the formal t; clarity with which a complex section of Japanese society is presented.