25 OCTOBER 1930, Page 40


Additions to Knowledge

The Secret Image. By Laurence Oliver. (Harrap. Is. 6d.) A Woman with White Eyes. By Mary Borden. (Heinemann.

7s. 6d.) Gay Agony. By H. A. Manhood. (Cape. 7s. 6d.)

A ROUGE-AND-READY test, which may be applied without injustice to most contemporary novels, is to determine whether they add to our imaginative knowledge of life and character- The addition need not be great. It may be an incident only, a reply, a picture : but the novel which prints some such impression on the memory has outdistanced the mass of its competitors, and been definitely worth the reader's time. Each of the books above adds something to our understanding, and will survive further tests.

The Secret Image is a first novel, and an uncommonly good one. A terrible fire breaks out at Trevean, the island home of " those Irskines," whose illegal union has for fourteen years scandalized the virtuous Scillonians. Irskine himself, a drunkard, perishes : " Mrs. Irskine " is rescued, injured and unconscious, and nursed back to health by the Vicar and his wife. She recovers, but her memory is gone. By degrees the doctor and a couple of her old friends manage to recall it. She remembers her too early marriage, her dull, prim, titled husband : her War nursing, her meeting with Jack Irskine, her love for him : how, finally, she left her husband and her two children, and ran away with Jack to live on the beautiful island of Trevean. At this point her memory stops, and a painful shock is necessary to restart it. Then she remembers everything : Jack's slow, hideous decline into drunkenness, into every sort of meanness, till he had robbed her of all she valued. The last chapters, so right and so convincing, I am not going to give away. Mr. Oliver's first novel is a work of imaginative maturity. His writing is easy and does not obtrude itself. His characters are unstressed but complete. He has an admirable sense of form. Once or twice, for a few pages at a time, the writing flags : but that is all that can be set on the debit side. The Secret Image is a remarkable and beautiful book.

Caroline Merryweather, the American narrator of .4 Woman with White Eyes, had also lost her memory. Unable to recall with certainty the incidents of her own emotional life, she could remember practically the whole life of her friend Maggie

Travers. This trying to remember " she writes, " is a torturing business." Some of her difficulty is shared by the reader : I found the first three chapters of this book uncommon hard going. Once settled in it, I would not have missed a sentence—not even a sentence like this : . . . Only Life was, after all's said and done, wrong, is a liar and a trickster, they had, those facts, no true reality."

Maggie, who loved so extravagantly that she kept Buck Dawson for years, when loving wisely would have lost bins : Buck—" deprived of women, he got ill " : Jock Bailey, the horsey faun of a man, who was to bring Caroline clean animal vitality, but brought only greed and fear and general shoddiness : these, and Caroline herself, live on after the book has been closed. Tawaska, the strange Polar saint, is more elusive. A symbol of great importance to Caroline and to the story, he seems more a picture than a person. David, Maggie's small son, is to me the least satisfactory character. He may have been one of the people Caroline could not remember. But this is a most impressive and 'Having book, full of scenes that haunt the memory : a book so calm, so steady, so sure of itself that it makes the reader feel his difficulties are probably his own fault, and, in any ease, of small importance.

Miss Stern starts in like manner with a flood of names. Opening Mosaic is rather like entering a room full of Ilakonitzes and Czelovars all talking at the tops of their voices. Even with a genealogy, the first chapter is a little bewildering. But as soon as one's - ears have become accustomed to the din, the room is warm, comfortable, and inlinitely interesting. It is hard indeed to select from the profusion of coloured incident and character that makes Mosaic. Berthe at the concert, disparaging the Swedish mezzo ; or lecturing Letti :—" I am furious. It is formidable how furious I am. You do not even guess it''—the indomit- able Anastasia, haranguing from a balcony the taxi she cannot pay, and breaking off in the middle to criticize Toni's hair : Aunt Elsa crying But no, Val, no, no, no. I will not have it that you ride bare-back over your husband : " Henke again—a marvellous character— in the grim scene where Millie tells her the truth about Etienne and Rudi : to select incidents and characters is to belittle the effect of the whole. Mosaic is not an addition to knowledge : it is an encyclopaedia.

Mr. Manhood offers very strong meat : many customers will not hesitate to call it high. There are incidents and words in Gay Agony which make it impossible to recommend send the book to the general reader, but Mr. Manhood's gifts are such that it most certainly may not be passed over. Tortured and overwritten, it is the work of a strong and original talent, and the information it gives upon Mr. Manhood's lusty, half-demented, but sometimes coolly beautiful world is both coherent and convincing. Those who are used to the utmost freedom of the contemporary novel should read Gay .Agony, but I cannot take the responsibility of recommending

it to anyone not thus inoculated. L. A. G. STRONG.