'Stravaganza, by Paul Smith. (Heinemann, 18s)
D-Day in Paradise. by Max Catto. (Heinemann, 18s.)
A Dragon To Kill, Kenneth Mackenzie. (E y r e and Spottiswoode, 215.)
KATE O'BRIEN and other discerning critics have sung the praises of previous books by Paul Smith and his reputation is safely international. It's a funny thing that Dubliners seem to be unable, with very few exceptions, to be simultaneously practising Catholics and successful writers, though there's no good reason why the two should be mutually exclusive. Mr. Smith may never have been a Catholic but he certainly has little love for the outward signs or inward graces of Ireland's faith.
His Father Shill (though there are such priests) is narrow and heartless and not over-scrupulous; his mention of "the ghastly belief that the more nuns and priests there are, the better for the world" is open to less loaded interpretations: "a medieval
poverty of circumstances that, according to the government and Church are irremediable" is a plain untruth.
Both Church and State in Ireland are keenly aware of social injustices which, together and separately, they have been trying for forty years to redress with considerable success. Mr. Smith might also sort out the difference between the Legion of Mary (who don't have a special medal) and the Children of Mary who, in unusual attire, form part of a disorderly Corpus Christi procession.
His grammar, like his indignation, is sometimes irrational, but the hook does grow on you, along with the lovely Connemara countryside and the varied crew of urban refugees who occupy much of it and are gently tolerated by the real inhabitants who gradually step out of the pages to engage our feelings and sympathies.
Big Bessie and Maishie, and Barty, their uncommon denominator, are the big fish of the story, but the small fry have their individual, if occasionally poisonous charm.
Mr. Catto's The Tiger in the Bed was one of , last
year's fiction highlights, as D-Day in Paradise should be of 1963, Action, description, characterisation-all the ingredients of a superb story are handled with the skill of a master craftsman.
Every man and woman in the story comes vividly alive and none more than Carlotta, the hurricane who whips things up to a furious denouement. Red. a courageous but cynical mercenary, becomes involved in spite of himself and so, in a whole-hearted suspension of detachment, does the reader.
In A Dragon lo Kill a young South African lawyer, Tony Cox, also becomes "involved" but, unlike Red, ineffectively. He fails to save an African, Abel Makana, from being found guilty of the murder of a white policeman, though all concerned are at least half aware that Abel, a firm believer in passive resistance, was not the murderer and Tony has heard the real murderer's drunken confession.
He laments that "people . . . the world . . . God" did not care and his own heart did not break. though Abel has been his father's faithful employee and his own friend. A topical and moving book.