2 JUNE 1961, Page 28

Verdicts of Guilty

The Father's Comedy. By Roy Fuller. (Andre Deutsch, 13s. 6d.) One Foot in the Clouds. By J. Gathorne-Hardy. (Hamish Hamilton, 15.s.) The Worm and the Ring. By Anthony Burgess. (Heinemann, 16s.) All on the Never-Never. By Jack Lindsay. (Mul- ler, 16s:)

HAROLD COLMORE, drifting towards a successful, self-satisfied and mildly adulterous middle age, is suddenly pulled up sharp by the news that his son, on National Service in Africa, has beaten up an officer and is about to stand court martial. In The Father's Comedy Roy Fuller proceeds to develop this situation with some ingenuity and on two levels. First, there is the practical side of it all; what is to be done and what, in any case, has really happened? Why is the young soldier at once so aggressive and so fatalistic about the charges against him? And why won't he co- operate with the expensive lawyer whom his father has procured in his defence? Having been mixed up in this sort of affair more than once myself, I don't hesitate to say that Mr. Fuller is dead right both in the antics and in the attitudes which he attributes to all parties; and his court martial is a model of precision and suspense.

But more important to Mr. Fuller, one sus- pects, is the second level on which he is operat- ing. Here the story is interpreted in terms of family guilt. The father, though doing everything possible to save the boy, is aware that he has failed him in the past and is indeed still failing him—is he not as much concerned to keep the family name clean and to propitiate his London bosses as he is to protect his son? At well-chosen points in the novel this rising guilt is brought to bear on, and then finally to determine, the actual course of events, and we are left with a natural and satisfying conclusion—a rare occurrence in an age when most novels seem to finish only be- cause their authors are too bored to continue.

J. Gathorne-Hardy's first novel, One Foot in the Clouds, while it suffers from too much out- side explanation of its characters and their motives, is a great pleasure to-read and this for two reasons: because Mr. Gathorne-Hardy Writes with a kind of boisterous cunning which does not eschew poetic effect (he has a masterly picture of Hyde Park at dusk, of night and desire creeping together through the bushes); and be- cause he writes from an educated point of view. By this I mean not only that he has a taste for speculation but thitt he is prepared to apply knowledge and intellectual discipline to its pro- cesses. Despite the rather 'beat' world he de- scribes, he remains uncompromisingly 'square'— a scholar discoursing of lay-abouts. Not that his hero is quite a lay-about, but he is the next thing to it—a young man who says he is a writer. The background--need I add?—is literary London at its silliest: giving Mr. Gathorne-Hardy the chance for 'sane engaging malice. But it also gives him the chance to put his hero through a gruelling obstacle course of personal and literary disaster (ranging from a dose of VD to public humiliation in the British Museum), from all of which he emerges bloody but game to receive his spurs,from his creator on the last page. He is, it seems, a real writer at last. One has doubts about this, but both he and Mr. Gathorne-Hardy deserve our best wishes for the future.

Anthony Burgess is also an educated writer— sufficiently so to add a true professional dimen- sion to the characters of the schoolmasters and schoolmarms who revolve, in The Worm and the Ring, round the central totem-pole of 'liberalism.' They -revolve to good purpose—variously gro- tesque, pathetic, crooked and heroic, they illus- trate con brio the virtues, vices and pratfalls of their kind in a. provincial county school which is dominated by a governing body of savagely philistine shopkeepers. The comedy is excellent, the moral rather sad: liberals are on the side of the angels, Mr. 13nrgess seems to say, but they make the mistalce of seeing angels all around them—with the result that they are always making fools of themselves and are seldom fit to conduct enterprises of moment. This task they should leave to careerists-and hard-faced men who have a taste for such things, and themselves retreat like Horace to his Sabine Farm, like him allaying their guilt (for guilt there must be) with jokes about, their defection. .I hope Mr. Burgess is wrong, but he makes a very good case.

In brief. The versatile Jack Lindsay has come up with. some shrewd comments on contemporary forms 'of sham in All on the Never-Never. Two daydreaming housewives, respectively lower- middle and upper-middle, learn something of moral reality through the contrasted agencies of a hectoring Mum and a voracious 'heat' poet. Jim Hunter's first novel, The Sun in the Morn- ing, is a conscientious and largely sympathetic account of growing up in the West Riding; while John Welcome's 'Beware of Midnight is a high- grade if somewhat erratic thriller, mixing.cricket, Ireland, Spain and black magic, but being oddly prudish about sex.