By RUBY MILLAR PASSING TIME, by Michel Butor (Faber & Faber, 21s.).
TOO MANY GHOSTS, by Paul Galileo (Michael Joseph, 16s.).
NO SIGNPOSTS IN THE SEA, by V. Sackville-West (Michael Joseph, 13s. 6d.).
MICHEL RUTOR is one of the new school of French writers who think they are giving the novel form a shot in the arm by denuding it of its classic ingredients. plot and characterisation.
"Passing Time is the diary of a few months spent in a northern English industrial city, here called Bleston, by a young Frenchman. Jacques Revel, who has come to work there as a clerk.
The city, huge, cold. dirty and unfriendly, at once engages him in personal combat.
HIS first human contact is with a negro who has hated the place for years but cannot tear himself away.
Two landmarks of the city, the old and the new Cathedral, have a particular fascination for Revel; he weaves elaborate fantasies around their sculpture and stained glass and around a set of tapestries discovered in a museum.
Then he gets hold of a detective story called "The Bleston Murder"; by chance he meets its author and when the latter meets with an accident, Revel's fancy persuades him that it is really an attempt at murder.
Is the would-be assassin Revel's nice young fellow-clerk, James Spencer, whose mother has some strange affinity with the sculpture in the new Cathedral; or is it the city itself, aptly personified by the murderer's window in the old Cathedral?
THE pieces of the jig-saw never quite fit in. Faint threads of story and glimpses of people drift through the book. like remembered fragments of a dream; nothing is real except the city itself and the young foreigner's loneliness in it.
With its digressions, repetitions, and tantalising hints of situations never either posed or resolved, the book is irritating, yet fascinating; it engulfs the reader in its own fog, as Bleston engulfed the narrator. The translation, by Jean Stewart, seemed to me unusually good.
Ithe beginning, I found Mr. 1 Gallico's new novel almost as confusing as "Passing Time". There were not only too many ghosts, poltergeists, clammy hands, shadowy nuns and harps that played of themselves, they were also too many relics of the cast of a thirtyish detective story gathered in ParadineCourt, including an investigator with aristocratic connections to overawe any fractious witnesses not out of the right drawer.
But the tiresomepreliminaries once through, the author's practised story-telling ability takes charge and his considerable knowledge of paranormal phenomena, genuine or faked, provides a welcome hard core.
In spite of the old fashioned cast, the book is up to the minute in its combination of rationality and respect for occult manifestations which cannot be explained away and there is a nice touch of the philanderer in the investigator.
With all this I suppose it is perverse to sigh for the real McCoy, a lamp lit room in a lonely cottage, a whisky on the bedside table and a volume of M. R. James. This is a ghost story for the television age, bound to be popular.
"iv° SIGNPOSTS IN THE 1 SEA" is, in its own individual way, a shipboard romance between a man who knows that he is soon to die and the woman he loves, but dare not tell.
He has made this voyage in order to spend his last days in her company; his elegiac descent of the darkening slope is troubled by his jealousy of a fellow passenger. The book is very lightly scored. no harsh or unduly emotional note is sounded, and if one does not feel that the tragedy is very real, one can enjoy the quietly sophisticated presentation and the many felicitous descriptions.