D.J. Enright (1920–2002) was a British poet, novelist and critic. He held teaching positions in Egypt, Japan, Thailand, Singapore and the United Kingdom. In 1981 Enright was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

Speaking in Tongues

The opening of Tim Parks’s Destiny repays study; it sets the scene neatly, and is the only sustained upsurge of clarity and single-mindedness we shall experience for quite a time: Some three months after returning to England, and having at last completed—with the galling exception of the Andreotti interview—that collection …

Life Is Beautiful

“Lovers for a day”: yet is “lovers” the right word, and can the dust jacket be accurate in calling this a “lovely” collection of stories, unless of course the word is used in some special, aesthetic, possibly ironic sense? The dates of Ivan Klíma’s twelve stories have an obvious significance: …

Modern Love

Rarely can a novel of this modest size have made such demands on its readers. The more slowly and carefully you follow the narrative, the more tortuous, unsettled, and uncertain or ambivalent it grows, and the more difficult to epitomize. Such, we suppose, is to be expected of what is …

Lone Wolf

The earliest work in The Mad Dog, a collection of hitherto unpublished stories by Heinrich Böll, is “Youth on Fire.” It was written in 1937, when the author was nineteen years old, and is, as we say uneasily, interesting: “the most surprising story” here, according to Breon Mitchell’s zealous introduction, …

Welcome to Moor

Moor is a village, one of a cluster of villages encircled by mountains, presumably in Germany. There used to be a spa resort on the shores of its lake, and some hotels still survive in a state of disrepair. Moor has also been famous for its high-grade granite, and latterly …

Czech Mates

Whereas George Orwell was down and out in Paris, Bohumil Hrabal’s narrator and hero, Ditie by name, is upwardly mobile in the hotel and restaurant world of Prague. Ditie loves his labors. In some respects his experiences resemble those of Thomas Mann’s Hochstapler Felix Krull, who did nicely for himself …

So, and Not So

Let us begin (although Salman Rushdie doesn’t) with the affair of the Satanic verses, revealed in the second part of his new novel, The Satanic Verses. This second part is entitled “Mahound,” a disrespectful name for Muhammad, found for example in Spenser to signify a heathen idol by whom wicked …

Doomsday Book

Günter Grass’s new novel is a hectic meditation, darting and diverging in characteristic fashion, a gathering of old obsessions and newer pains, and a recall or roll call of characters from his earlier works, a roll of honor and of dishonor, an elaborate Last Post or taps for what he …

Visions and Revisions

In The Messiah of Stockholm we have, for once, a truly intriguing mystery, quietly (and at times not so quietly) sounding those overtones or undertones of allegory or fable, of universality, without which no mystery will detain us for long. At the beginning of The Magic Mountain young Hans Castorp …

Charmed Particles

Sphinx, the successor to D.M. Thomas’s Ararat and Swallow, embraces material enough for a dozen novels, although it can hardly be considered a novel itself, however liberal one’s conception of the form. It resembles a vast telephone exchange, clicking and reverberating insanely as connections are made and broken, crossed lines …

Writers at Play

There are allegorical tales, usually rather short, that resemble instant powders or concentrates: if you add water, in the shape of extra incidents and ancillary characters, you have a decent novel of a standard kind. The Fall of Kelvin Walker isn’t one of these: if you diluted it, you would …

Bridges & Boundaries

The narrator of The Monkey’s Wrench reflects that, while the word “freedom” has only too many meanings, perhaps the most accessible form of freedom, the most enjoyable and the most useful to society, “consists of being good at your job and therefore taking pleasure in doing it.” He will of …

Master of Horror

A common misfortune of cultural historians, scholars who propose to supply the background to the work of writers, is that the writers have already supplied not only a foreground but, by implication, a background as well, and, if they are writers of account, one of considerable brilliance and intimacy. We …

Special Subjects

“And my lament / Is cries countless,” goes one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s sonnets, “cries like dead letters sent / To dearest him that lives alas! away.” This would serve as a handy description of Martin Walser’s new novel, except for the word “dearest.” Franz Horn is a middle-echelon executive, …

Chastisements

Our attitude toward the great European thinkers and writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries can be a distinctly mixed one. In their high seriousness and somber admonition, they seem to have said virtually everything there was to say, charting the disintegration of values and prophesying the doom …

Worlds of Wonder

In The Bone People, winner of the 1985 Booker Prize in Britain as well as the Pegasus Prize in America, nature will fight back valiantly, but the opening pages are all artifice, dispiritingly so. The stoutest reader must quail when he reads in the preface that the short story which …

Depositions

Truth lies at the bottom of a well, or so the proverb tells us. In the case of John Fowles’s new novel—nonpareil, for better and for worse—it lies 450 pages deep. The book begins with a circumstantial and powerful image of five ill-assorted travelers, a “somber cavalcade,” making their way …

Jews, Have Pity!

The true hero of A Perfect Peace—something which, we shall be unsurprised to hear, doesn’t exist—is a kibbutz, Kibbutz Granot, populated largely by ex-Russians and ex-Poles, and looking “as if it had been built out of blocks by an intelligent child.” The problems arising in this “place-in-progress” are listed in …

Calling Dr. Angst

On the jacket of his new novel, the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard is likened to Kafka and Beckett, while reviewers are quoted as linking him with Broch, Strindberg, and Musil. Whether these constitute sure-fire recommendations is a matter of opinion. Are we certain we need another Kafka? Or that we …

Prisoners & Pornographers

“It took a very, very long time to forget, and a very, very long time to remember,” J.G. Ballard told Claire Tomalin in an interview printed recently in the London Sunday Times. He was speaking of the period he spent as a boy, between 1942 and the end of the …

Home from Home

On the title page Josef Skvorecky’s novel describes itself as “An entertainment on the old themes of life, women, fate, dreams, the working class, secret agents, love and death.” All that in slightly under six hundred pages? In the event, we witness what seems a miracle of organization, helped out …

Beer, Onions, and Damnation

The authorized version has it that Lucifer and the angels loyal to him fell through pride, having set themselves up as equal to the Almighty, and thereafter sought revenge by seducing God’s newly created favorites, mankind. (See Milton for details.) The German novelist Stefan Heym has now come up with …

Forked Tongue

Tristram Shandy made Sterne famous, and Midnight’s Children did the same for Salman Rushdie a couple of years ago. Yet would one want—could one endure—any sort of sequel to Tristram Shandy? A Sentimental Journey is considered no more than a pendant to it, but can Shame, itself the reverse of …

Cracks in the Universe

We know what an “Oxford Book” is, but what exactly is an “aphorism”? Etymologically the word is traced to the Greek for “setting a boundary,” “defining.” It is impossible to set precise boundaries but we might propose, as a broad definition, that aphorisms convey general truths or tenets while epigrams …

Hangovers

Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll have both amply demonstrated their staying power and (more strikingly in the case of the former) their versatility. In their new books they have both (Grass more strikingly than Böll) turned into what in my childhood were called “worrits.” Since we can worry well enough …

The Flood Next Time

Stiller, published in 1954 and translated into English as I’m Not Stiller in 1958, carried Max Frisch into the class of international writers, eliciting comparisons with Kafka and Thomas Mann that may have been more automatic than reasoned. I’m Not Stiller could have been called “I’m Not Swiss—Or Not Entirely.” …

Hooray for Monsters

Japanese fiction resembles British drama in that it started off at its peak and thereafter slid downhill. The Japanese peak came earlier: The Tale of Genji was written in the first quarter of the eleventh century. And it was written by a woman—at times it is advantageous to be a …