Reviewed by PATRICK O'DONOVAN
Path of Dalliance, by Auberon Waugh (Chapman and Hall, 21s.).
M R. AUBERON WAUGH'S second novel will not cause as much pain as his first. It is more mature. It is less ferocious. It is as well written. But, essentially, it is the mixture as before.
"Path of Dalliance" is the story of a charming Catholic boy called Sligger who is the natural victim of a naturally cruel and implacable world. His mother is a grotesque emotional tyrant who has a stunted affair with a delinquent. His father is a boor, his brother a criminal. The stage
is set for the contemporary tragedy which, of course, is ludicrous rather than tragic.
At school he is part of a moral spy ring run by one of the "Brothers". At Oxford he is victimised for being insufficiently obviously upper cl..ss. He is involved in peculiar left wing politics. His only discernible ambition is to achieve sexual experience. He is sent down.
Mother dogs his life with appalling advice and worse example. The politics in which he innocently dabbles are either absurd or dead sinister. All his attempts to get jobs, in what appears to be the Secret Service or in Fleet Street, are frustrated by an ambivalent gentleman who appears to have gathered all the powers of the Establishment into his own person whose purposes are meaningless and whose methods polite.
Miner, in the end, comes into his harbour, a drab, safe haven which no storm can touch. The last is its peculiar horror.
All the characters are either ineffectual or evil. Some are both. They take second place to the idea that life is a brutal joke and that man can do nothing against his environment.
To ram this home Sligger's family is obscene, his school is a hot house for the production of immaturity, Oxford is a bad joke, Fleet Street is a den of exhausted thieves, the Church is a meaningless charade played by charlatans, love is something that happens briefly between sheets.
Everyone, then, is a victim and the most carefree life is a tragedy. But the survivors are those who are impervious to tragedy and these are almost everyone. There
is a dim little female suicide, but she kills herself only because she is inadequate and cannot get her sexual way. The telling of this story is often very funny indeed; its implications are appalling.
This is spiritual aridity expressed in social and political terms. There is nothing left to believe in. All battles are absurd. all ideals illusions. All authority is evil and not even sex offers any satisfaction. There is nothing new in this. It is the contemporary cry of pain. The trouble for the older people is to find quite what is hurting so bitterly.
The writers who emerged since the war have somehow however much they protest it adopted a common, recognisable attitude. In them disbelief is as strong and
passionate as belief. Their 'No' Is loud as any 'Yes' in history. They seem at times the most unhappy of generations. And certainly no-one pities them more than themselves.
Literally nothing, except in practice, the English language and the structure of the novel, is treated with any reverence in this book. Even Mr. Evelyn Waugh's altar lights seem now to be out.
Mr. Auberon Waugh's second novel is literate evidence of the malaise that some have called the "English Sickness." Like most diseases its symptoms are ugly. Many will find the novel distasteful. It is certainly honest. If it is ever fair to judge a writer's state from the work he does, it could be said, fairly, of Mr. Waugh that he has a great emptiness where most men keep their hearts.