29 NOVEMBER 1940, Page 22


HERE we have five novels—four of them by women—having this in common, that they are uniformly readable if you are short of reading matter, but on the other hand need by no means trouble your library list, should that be decently furnished. They are, in fact, five books of a kind most worrying to a reviewer, being competent, assured and lively—and never more than momentarily ridiculous. Yet they add almost nothing to human experience or understanding ; they symbolise nothing, they interpret nothing. They are part of that stream of com- petent book-making which, while it bottle-necks the journey of true talent, also miseducates the ordinary reader in regard to the novelist's art.

Miss Sarah Campion, the author of Turn Away No More, is very exasperating, for she has talents broad and quick enough to land her up occasionally in moments of power, but more often, alas! into pretentiousness. She has a realist's eye, and can fix it quite coolly and steadily on what is crude and what is mean. And that is a lot to be able to do, if she would but see her talent that way and be content. But she must be

caustic, too, and she must be the sophisticated commentator, roles which do not suit her gifts; she likes to type elaborate the mature charm of the higer pe of moreover, woman, and to expose said higher type to the assault of innocent.young manhood. An undertaking to which she brings too much

magazine-story tenderness, too much parti pris. Helen Voyageur

and David Virgo—do you like their names?—are boring people, not in conception, but in execution ; and we have to travel a long way with them—as far indeed as from Sydney to Paris via Marseilles—and to listen to a very great deal of sugared-o'er pro and con, and sit in at a great many moonshiny, tourists' idylls before they decide to go all the way back to Queensland to make love. No, I do them wrong ; if I correctly understand my author, they made love on that fateful night in Paris before they turned for home. " It will not last ; why should it? But a kiss makes as good an ending as any other to a tale like this. You see—." Personally, I don't see ; and I think that if it

doesn't last we have all been put through a great deal of very wasteful debate. And Miss Voyageur is, after all, thirty-eight. However, Miss Campion manages from time to time to shake off that major difficulty, and in one of their moments of happi- ness she compares these lovers to "two tots in a sweetshop."

But in fairness it must be said that there is a character called Audrey Juniper in this book—a plain, dull, selfish, hard-up, sex- starved young woman—who really engages our interest and by sheer clumsy unpleasantness almost takes on the stature of tragedy. We do not believe in her end, expertly though Miss • Campion keeps it graceless and in character—Audrey would not have done what here she does ; she would have trailed a much longer, uglier, more desolate road—but she is a well-written character. She is representative and serious, and affords her author welcome escapes from magazine writing to novelistic truth.

Those Sinning Girls is a light and genial business. The joke of the title is somewhat laboured ; the four heroines are four

sisters, the Misses Sinning, children of a bookseller in Bath.

Made restless by much reading in papa's stock, these young ladies obtain his permission—in 1857—to absent themselves from home for one year and earn their livings as they can. And so we get four neat, amusing little stories staged respectively in London, Russia, New York and Norfolk in 1857. Local colour is carefully laid on—we meet Thackeray and the Tsar Alexander II and Mrs. John Jacob Astor. None of the girls comes to disaster ; indeed, they are proved to be singularly lucky young ladies. But Miss Amelia's adventure, in a quiet manor house in Norfolk, was the most readable, I thought, being rather amusingly reminiscent at once of Wilkie Collins, Miss Braddon and Charlotte Brontë.

Antimacassar City is about Glasgow in the 5870's ; it is a tale of bourgeois family life, of social climbing and the inter-

actions, jealousies and affections of brothers, sisters and -in-laws. It is humorous—I believe what is called " pawky," in a faintly amateur way, but it runs along without effort, and the central character, Phoebe Moorhouse, is pleasant and promising, and could have borne to have been more expertly worked out. The topography of Glasgow is very much-featured throughout the book, and this will no doubt make it interesting to those who know the city and its Victorian growth ; but to one who never set foot in the place, and never expects to, the details of building development east and west seemed overdone and was a- little confusing.

Captain Cerise is a picturesque, shallow affair. It is 18th century, set in glorious houses in the Cotswolds, and altogether

very " costume " and elegant. It is about a beautiful young woman called Corisande who was carried off by a pirate called Captain Cerise, and stayed with him for two days on his ship, ' The Wooden Madonna,' with cherry-coloured sails. She was going to sail with him, having fallen in love, when she was rescued and he shot by her stolid cousin Charles, to whom the family betrothed her. But she dreams of the pirate and does not believe that he is dead, and his swashbuckling, Papist talk haunts her, and she presses his crucifix to her breast, and on her wedding-day he comes to fetch her away. And she goes with him and sails for the island of San Marco. The story would be all right as such chestnuts go, were it not so pretentiously and oddly twisted through with pretty, catchpenny nonsense about the Roman Catholic Church. This decorative whim of the author's is puzzling and out of place.

Quietly My Captain Waits can afford to wait quietly. Any day now it will be made into a very good film, and it will be far more enjoyable and effective in that medium than it is as it stands. It is an historical romance of the 18th century and of the struggle between England and France for the possession of Nova Scotia. Captain de Bonaventure, in command of the French Navy, and Madame de Freneuse make a brave pair, and Miss Eaton tells their story in traditional' manner, but with such concessions as are generally allowed in favour of loth century