23 FEBRUARY 1940, Page 28

New Novels

He and His. By Reginald Carter. (Cape. ros. 6d.)

Mandragora. By John Palmer. (Gollancz. 8s. 3d.) IT is a happy circumstance when a novelist can address an audience or describe a society which has an elaborate and strictly enforced code of manners based upon a fundamental moral unity. And his task is a heavy one when there are no formal patterns of behaviour in common acceptance, when one man regards adultery as a sin while his neighbour treats it as an elegant social accomplishment. In a morally chaotic society, an act which is high tragedy to Mr. A. may appear to Mrs. B. to be a lot of morbid fuss about nothing ; and this perpetually shifting and erratic emphasis imposes on the novelist the need to be understood in a great number of conflicting " moral languages." The light of his vision, instead of being concentrated, has to diffuse itself over a wide and shapeless territory inhabited by hostile factions ; and it is no wonder if he sometimes looks with a covetous eye at the more homogeneous communities of the past. In his recent novel,

The Fathers, Mr. Allen Tate turned to the period of the American Civil War, not from a cloak-and-sword interest in history, but for the sake of its social conventions. In He and His, Mr. Reginald Carter makes a similar use of Victorian

England as the background for a story of two " brothers " who are discovered to be illegitimate. The subsequent com- plications depend upon the assumptions that nobody will fail to be extremely shocked, and that every decent person will be too tactful to divulge any scrap of information which happens to come his way. This alone, I think, justifies Mr. Carter's flight from a contemporary setting.

He and His is an intricate story, always dramatic, lavishly

peopled with a wide range of characters, and rising to several big scenes where the formal and shrewdly calculated dialogue enhances the effect. In trying to praise Mr. Carter adequately it is tempting to over-praise him, but wild comparisons with Jane Austen can only prejudice the reader. Mr. Carter is inclined to be theatrical and occasionally lapses into a crude melodrama. The characterisation is over-simplified, and on

two occasions the complexity of the plot leads the author into plain errors. Nevertheless, He and His is a work of un-

common distinction, particularly if—as it appears to be—it is a first novel. It certainly stands head and shoulders above the general run of current fiction.

Many of us have sat gladly at the feet of Miss Yvonne Arnaud while she teases our national follies and reminds us that civilisation is a French industry. Anthony Thome's

Cabbage Holiday is such a gift for Miss Arnaud that I hope it will at once be dramatised for her. Mr. Thorne brings to

an English village, for a rest cure, a middle-aged Parisienne who owns the nicest kind of brothel. Her rural adventures with a lady devoted to " good works," a proverb-quoting vicar, and an inarticulate major who communicates in the grandiloquent code of flower-language, are irresistibly funny.

There are books that make me smile as I read and books that make me stop reading and laugh. The latter are rare. Not

since Patrick Hamilton's Impromptu In Moribundia have I laughed so loudly, so long, and so often as I did over Cabbage Holiday. It is as efficient and richly absurd as an Aldwych farce, and it deserves to be equally popular.

The Corner of Paradise Place is a novel of locality, a seemingly haphazard cross-section of people with little common except their postal address. An elderly impoverished couple of gentle birth, a drunken charwoman, a Catholic priest, and a family of shopkeepers are among those who walk the stage of Paradise Place ; Mr. Eton tells us the story of each, quietly, vividly, and with an unforced affection for the simple stuff of humanity. This is not a book of spectacular qualities, but it has a solid and sober merit. The characters are well chosen and always credible. Mr. Eton weaves their lives into an attractive pattern, and touches them all with a momentary serenity. The Corner of Paradise Place is, to my mind, a very likeable book, sympathetic, animated, and well

worth reading. •

The Soldier and the Girl is the typically bad novel of the present day. Mr. Buchanan, alas, has a " theme " (the dilemma of the artist in a military world), and accordingly his characters have to become portentous symbols of different points of view. This kind of fictional philosophising can be done—as, for example, D. H. Lawrence did it—but only if there is sufficient intensity to ignite the characters and endow them with the urgency and the passion of living people. Mr. Buchanan's tepid reflections are no more than a mixture of journalistic platitudes and the syllabus of an intellectual summer school. The main protagonists are perfunctory dummies, and their dialogue defies description. The girl, alleged to be a simple, ignorant barbarian, manages to say, " I dread to think that every gesture of mine is regarded by you from the point of view of its pictorial possibilities." Another character remarks, " You've become superficial, even frivolous. . . . You want to live a life of modish badinage." And the Artist mutters to himself, "I renounce the clever chic painter that I used to be in the Metropolis. . . . I must be credited with some talent for the thing to be done. But I have been encouraged. Even cantankerous critics have shown interest. So why dally? " Mr. Buchanan writes with earnestness, sincerity and high endeavour. So did the author of Young England.

Mandragora is like that kind of Hollywood supporting film in which routine characters, in whom nobody pretends to be much interested, are used to decorate a specialised subject (anything from air mail to reformatories). We tolerate the plot because the setting is uncommon and realistic. Mr. John Palmer (described as " a former high official of the League of Nations ") has an expert knowledge of the illicit drug traffic, and in Mandragora he describes a battle of wits between dope racketeers and the officials who work to suppress them. Tales of smuggling and illegal adventure are all the more exciting for having authentic details, and Mr. Palmer's account of the ingenuit.e.s used for d.stributing drugs is an instructive description of the way in which crime marches on—even if