Bernard Bergonzi is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Warwick.

Truants

In two of these books matricidal small boys play a prominent part, and in a third an adolescent very nearly stabs the sweet old lady next door with a carving knife. If this becomes a steady trend we shall perhaps see a fusion of two dominant themes in American life: …

Stale Incense

In What is Literature? Sartre argues that whereas the poet is concerned with words rather than with things or ideas, the novelist, as a prose writer, must move beyond words to the real world, and so inevitably involve himself with questions of direction and commitment. Sartre is expressing contempt for …

Nice But Not Good

Iris Murdoch’s annual novel now seems to have become an established British institution: in private it may be derided or dismissed, but in public it gets the respect customarily given to venerable traditions. Some such theory, at least, is needed to account for the fact that reviewers tend to receive …

Catch-31

First novels are generally treated with indulgent interest, second novels are approached with an anxious concern to see whether the author can keep up the level of his first, while third and fourth novels are inspected for signs of staying power. But by the fifth novel we begin to suspect …

Not Long Enough

These four collections of short stories or novellas provide an instructively large dose of a kind of literary experience I usually avoid, since I tend to skip such pieces when I come across them in the pages of magazines. The short story is a paradoxical form in that it is …

Total Recall

The unfavorable reviewers of Edna O’Brien’s last novel, August Is a Wicked Month, were subjected to a counter-attack which asserted that they were blinkered and mean-spirited males, unable to take the full implications of female emancipation, and openly quaking before any frank assertion of the sexual nature of women. The …

“Eat! Eat!”

Three of these novels deal with a sizable part of American Jewish life in the twentieth century. Mr. Mirsky writes about a declining community in urban Boston; Mr. Gold in his “novel in the form of a memoir” tells the life story of Sam Gold, who came from czarist Russia …

Updike, Dennis, and Others

John Updike is obviously too gifted for his work to be treated with anything other than respect; and it was in this spirit that I approached The Music School, a new collection of short stories. Yet, by the time I had finished it, my respect, though only slightly diminished, was …

Stevenson for Grown-Ups

When Robert Louis Stevenson died in Samoa at the age of forty-four, in 1894, Henry James wrote, “He lighted up one whole side of the globe, and was in himself a whole province of one’s imagination. We are smaller fry and meaner people without him.” The mutual regard of these …

Anything Goes

Each book that Kingsley Amis publishes makes the popular conception of him as a predominantly comic novelist seem less realistic. It is, after all, more than twelve years since the fairly uncomplicated fun and high spirits of Lucky Jim and since that time Mr. Amis has been getting steadily gloomier, …

Private Fortunes

It may be, as Henry James once remarked, a complex fate to be an American, but Mr. Jacobson’s new novel suggests that it’s a great deal more complex to be a South African Jew. The Beginners deals with the fortunes of the Glickmans, the descendents of Avrom Glickman who settled …

Bouillabaisse

There is a critic in London who thinks that Patrick White is, without any argument, the finest novelist now writing in English. When I heard this judgment I couldn’t believe it; certainly his imposing but eccentric talents have always seemed to me to stop somewhere short of greatness, except perhaps …

Out Our Way

Thumbing a lift from Dante is evidently getting fashionable. First, there was Robert Rauschenberg; and now LeRoi Jones uses the descending circles of the Inferno as the structure of an autobiographical novel about a Negro childhood and adolescence in Newark, N.J. This scaffolding gives the book an ambitious appearance, but …

Herzog in Venice

The opening sentence of Stitch tells us not only where we are but what to expect: “The vaporetto to the Giudecca which Edward usually caught at night left the San Zaccaria pier at 11:59, an odd lime which magnified his fear of missing it and having to hang around the …

Queen for a Day

If I were Charles Scribner’s Sons I think that I would be feeling pretty nervous about publishing a first novel that took seventeen years to write, came to 3449 pages of typescript, and, in book form, weighs three-and-a-quarter pounds. Hence, doubtless, the unusual volume of publicity material that accompanied the …

Big Winner

Not all great literature is written in the major European languages; but when it isn’t, we stand a very good chance of never hearing about it. Only chance and the dedication of unusually equipped translators can make available to the English-speaking reader languages, even such venerable ones as Portuguese and …

Goodbye to All That

A little over fifty years ago, Rupert Brooke died of blood poisoning in the Aegean, on his way to Gallipoli. Some months before, he had anticipated the event in “The Soldier,” the most celebrated of his 1914 sonnets, which before long was to become one of the most widely read …

Mixed Company

Women novelists, we have learned to assume, like to keep their focus narrow. Apart from one or two Amazonian talents they can, and mostly do, leave to their male colleagues the task of assembling those big, bold, empty structures that aim to tell the whole truth about Congress or Madison …

Funny Book

One needs to be careful about using a phrase like “black comedy”: its very modishness makes it suspect, for it has been bandied about by the fashionable and ignorant in defense of a variety of repellent oddities. Still, it underlines the truth that there is a trace of blackness in …

New Fiction

If I put The Orgy at the head of the list it is less from a conviction of its overriding merit than from a simple desire to get it out of the way quickly; it is a book whose ambiguous status makes me very uncertain about how to handle it.

Not So Novel

Once, novels were really novel. The form emphasized the characters’ total freedom, their emancipation from the prearranged order of neo-classical art. True, their progress might in many cases be predictable, just as life is often predictable, but it was not preordinated. And novelists used their characters’ freedom of action as …

New Novels

It was not a good sign when John Braine’s last novel turned out to be a sequel to Room at the Top. If it suggested that Mr. Braine had a commendable faith in the possibilities of his character Joe Lampton, it also implied that his novelistic talents, which had never …

A New Angus Wilson

Angus Wilson has always been a paradoxical writer, assiduously concerned with the niceties of humanist behavior, but naggingly interested in the cruel and the sinister. This was very evident in his early short stories—such as the notorious “Strawberry Jam”—and fairly implicit in his novels. When The Old Men at the …

In Pursuit of Doris Lessing

Alienation, as Mr. Harold Rosenberg has lately reminded us, is becoming an overworked and threadbare concept. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to use it when talking about Doris Lessing, two of whose early novels have now appeared in a one-volume edition entitled Children of Violence. In all her writing Mrs. Lessing …

The Edwardians

Even those disinclined to read the text might find this sumptuous volume—a companion to such earlier Oxford titles as Shakespeare’s England and Early Victorian England—a potent instrument for the production of nostalgia. The photographs alone would guarantee that; published separately, with jazzier captions, they would be a certainty for the …

A Part of Our Time

The effective literary treatment of violence is never easy; and it is particularly difficult for those who are obsessed with a violence of which they themselves have had no direct experience. Such an obsession can be rationalized in a number of ways: we live in a violent age, goes the …

The Visions of H. G. Wells

Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his little book on Tolstoy, makes a useful distinction between two kinds of thinker: the Hedgehog, who knows a great deal about one thing, and the Fox, who knows a certain amount about many things. H. G. Wells can be regarded as the possibly unique representative …

At Anthony Powell’s

Not long ago, wedged in a corner at a party, I was involved with an agreeable young couple in a conversation about the name of the man with whom Jean Duport had been sleeping at the same time as her affair with Nicholas Jenkins. Years later, Bob Duport, Jean’s ex-husband, …