Solzhenitsyn (Bodley Head 30s.) The Frailty of Nature by Angela du Maurier (Davies 30s.) Tangled Web by Monica Barclay (Wright and Brown 13s. 6d.) When One Door Shuts by Michael Pereira (Bles 2Is.) My Vision's Enemy by Robin Chapman (Hodder & Stoughton 30s.) TWENTY years ago in Bratislava, Alexander Matushka, a Slovak critic, while freely admitting the degeneration of Russian literature to a medium for political indoctrination. said to me: "This is necessary until we have converted the world. Then it will be possible for the novelist to create a whole man. Then, once more, Russian literature will take its place as the finest in the world."
In these terms this present great work of Solzhenitsyn has cosine before its time. His characters are whole people. His writing is devoid of sentimentality, he baulks at no clinical detail, and yet his objectivity is never inhuman. In this book there is one brief but tragic passage of such beauty and tenderness that it moved me as I have never been moved by anything I have read before. At the end my feeling was one of new understanding and sympathy for a people infected by the virus of a social disease as destructive in its way of human happiness as the insidious physical one which afflicts the hospital patients of whom the author writes.
The existence of such a book is in itself a message of hope; but there is hope, too, in the phrase from Pushkin, whispered by the old Bolshevik, Shulubin, on his bed of pain: "Not all of me shall die."
Nowadays when the celibacy of the clergy is so much a subject of controversy, Angela du Maurier's latest novel of the life and career of a young Anglican vicar. strongly Catholic in his inclination, and the tragedy of his married life, gives much food for thought. True, Julian's young wife is an agnostic and her world is the glamorous one of the concert platform, rather than that of an East End parish; and these factors, plus the disaster that debars her from motherhood, certainly add up to a handicap of unusual proportions. However, the basis of much of the argument in favour of priestly celibacy is here. Miss du Maurier has dealt with the subject with honesty and compassion.
Monica Barclay's novel belongs to the category of loveromances written by women for women, and, within its own terms, tells a story nicely leavened with a spice of mystery and danger. A young girl wins a holiday in Malta and tries to find there some record of her father, a fighter-pilot lost in the defence of the island. She encounters unexpected opposition, falls foul of a sort of Maltese I.R.A.; but acquires an ally in a local reporter who helps her to the traditional happy ending.
And so across the Mediterranean to Istanbul, where, amid the exotic mazes of the Golden Horn, an English ne'er-do-well and a German girl reporter happen upon a lead to the complicated pipeline of a drug ring. The story is much. more enhanced by Michael Pereira's considerable knowledge of the locale, and as one discovery leads to another, and murder raises its ugly head, the tension builds up until one finds oneself as firmly hooked as any addict of the "white poison."
For me the major interest of Robin Chapman's new offering lies in the way he uses his television expertise to tell a story of imagined child-murder by a drop-out clerical student who sees himself as hounded by a God who must be bought off by human sacrifice. Intercut with his thoughts are the concurrent conversations of his parents, and of his brother and his brother's wife, who are trying to find him before the police. It is an effective and original method, both of revealing character and of creating atmosphere through what is, in effect, a. Celtic interlacery of streams of consciousness.