Alien

Doris Lessing’s terse and chilling novella is not recommended for the maternity ward. It may stir up deep-rooted fears in men as well as women, in sons as well as mothers. It is a tale of a mother who cannot love her son. Harriet fears Ben, even when he is …

The Power of Positive Trotskyism

Standing Fast is a long, common-sensical chronicle of the lives of a score of American socialists over twenty-four years, from the Hitler-Stalin pact to the death of J.F. Kennedy. It could form the basis for several Stanley Kramer films, offering parts for performers like Henry Fonda, Arthur Kennedy, Eva-Marie Saint, …

Divided Selves

Youth from the past. Un adolescent d’autrefois was the original title of Maltaverne which Mauriac published in 1969, when he was eighty-three, a year before his death. For the last thirty years of his life he had written very little fiction, preferring to concentrate on essays and perhaps ephemeral political …

Pow! Now

In one of Richard Stern’s seven tales which, with two essays, make up 1968, there is a man called McCoshan, “a gentleman out of sympathy with the times,” who drops ideas, large generalizations, at breakfast-time, when he “uncovers for his wife the terrible configurations beneath the newspaper facts.” This is …

Live Attraction

When a first-rate novel comes to us from Communist Europe, we do not want it sterilized and packaged: we want it raw. Last year, the Czechoslovakian author of The Joke wrote from Prague to the London Times Literary Supplement, protesting that his British publisher had “broken up” the novel, cutting …

Village Voices

It seems a pity that, in common speech, the people of England are so vaguely categorized as “middle class” and “working class” (the expression “upper class” being almost obsolete). If the word “class” were reserved for defining groups of people according to their property and production, we could agree on …

Tribal Gods

Traveler, you must set out At dawn. And wipe your feet upon The dog-nose wetness of the earth. The right foot for joy, the left, dread. And the mother prayed: Child, May you never walk Where the road waits, famished. These lines …

Lean Creatures

Jerzy Kosinski’s collection of painful scenes is compared by his publishers with a set of Goya etchings: certainly the subject matter is comparable, in the cruelty of the events represented, but Goya used to add comments—reprimands, prayers, and curses. There is not much of this kind of feeling in Steps.

War Correspondent

When Winston Churchill’s florid speeches came over the wartime radio, the aged Hilaire Belloc, ever out-of-date, is alleged to have snarled: “Damned Yankee careerist.” Fair comment on 1901-14; irrelevant to Churchill’s valued efforts in 1939-45. Equally anachronistic are the “old warrior’s” admirers, who are now applauding this volume of his …

No Man’s Land

An anonymous man, an alienated outsider smugly aware of his difference from others, walks his lonely way through an imaginary or allegorical nation-state, discussing abstract ideas according to the metaphysical philosophy studied in the universities of the European continent. A first glance at these three novels suggests, wrongly, that all …

The War Game

The naïve idealism involved in World War I, that idiot’s tale, was first supplied by the British. In most nation-states, the keen fighters believed that they were defending their own fatherland, by invading some other territory. Our hunting fathers, in Britain, feeling quite secure and sheltered behind the Grand Fleet, …

Know-All

Malcolm Muggeridge is in the know. He has seen through everything, and only the unknowable, the mysteries of the occult and the supernal, can afford him sustenance in this dark vale of woe. Vanity of vanities, crieth the trend-watcher. Comfort me with aumbries, stay me with chasubles, for I am …

Buster Busted

Skimming this large book, a casual reader may be daunted by the gasps of showbiz enthusiasm (“it was a glorious and preposterous hodgepodge with a happy madness all its own”), no less than by the more thoughtful efforts: “This is more than visual semantics; it is graphic epistemology. It is …

Two for the Money

Here are portraits of two plutocrats, two playboys of the western world, Basil Zaharoff (1850?-1936) and Nubar Gulbenkian (1896—). A first glance at their photographs, the shrewd grin between the topper and the beard, and you think of Uncle Sam. But turn a page and see them at Buckingham Palace, …

Bondage

The earliest of Ian Fleming’s penny-bloods were received with laughter and mock ecstasy. The wooden doll, James Bond, was garlanded with extravagant epithets: a streamlined figure full of gadgetry, carnivorous to the back teeth, this sado-masochistic private eye, daydream of male prepotence. (I collected such quotations when I was commissioned …

Sideshow

There is nothing more tedious than a newspaper “sensation” dredged up from the sludge of yesteryear. In sixty years’ time, our grandchildren will be bored with obituaries of Ringo Starr and Christine Keeler. The old grinning pictures and the dated clichés of commentary will be wheeled out of the cuttings …

Follow the Sun

Lately some of the middlemen of British pop-music, the managers and agents, have been splashed with a little stardust of their own. In fact young Brian Epstein (manager of the Beatles among others) complains in his brief autobiography that he has been interviewed too often, that he is suffering from …

The Monstrous Thing

Pierre Leuilliette’s graceful account of his service in Algeria and Suez was confiscated by the French police. Natrually, since several of the exploits recorded are the kind for which German war criminals were universally execrated and finally hanged. But the police need not have worried. No discredit, apparently, attaches to …

The Troubles

Certain kinds of fiction seem almost to be commissioned, like official portraits and biographies, to meet an alleged public need. Englishmen used to demand: “Where are the war poets?” Just so, Ireland, it seems has clamored for the Great Irish Novel to signalize her miserable struggle for independence, to give …

Amis’s English Usage

Bright and frightening as ever, Kingsley Amis deals in his new novel with the obligatory inspection of the United States by the English literature industry. His hero, the gross and shameless Roger Micheldene, is very low in the literature bracket, a mere commercial publisher in fact. but, for sheer Englishness, …

Waugh Revisited

Evelyn Waugh’s short novel is subtitled The Rake’s Regress and concerns: The Fallen Rake, being fallen from The heights of twenty to middle age. And helpless to control his rage, So mean, so few the chances come. I am quoting from Thom Gunn, who seems to …