by Nathalie Sedgwick Colby. New York: Harcourl, Brace & Co. 1927. l2mo. vi+306 pp. $2.00.
Green Forest — Mrs. Colby’s first, but it is to be hoped not her last, novel is equally interesting as a portrait gallery and as a tale. The few but diverse characters have extraordinary reality, as they promenade the decks of the Aquitania, lie, watchful of one another, under their rugs, and suffer Mrs. Piggott’s powerful singing of ‘Goodbye, Summer’ at the ship’s concert; and the compact and vivid story, presented mainly through the consciousness of one woman, has fancy and humor and emotional power.
Green Forest is a lively drama through which hums the tension of a steadily growing suspense. It is an inward, not an outward, drama; its centre is the cabin Occupied by Shirley Challoner and her daughter Suzette. The mother is an altogether charming figure: a beauty-loving, whimsical, rebellious creature, disciplined by life and most gracefully self-subjugated. Her sailing for Cherbourg with her daughter is the proof of this self-command. For death has removed the literal-minded and disagreeable husband whom for many years she has found it impossible to love; and she is free to marry the man whom for almost as many years she has loved entirely, the man with whom she has found the Green Forest — ‘down deep . . . that green forest.’ under the ‘superimposed world.’ But inopportunely Suzette, a hard, shallow, and vindictive child, has announced that her heart is broken and that she intends to follow her recreant ex-fiancé across the sea and bring him abject to her feet. Mrs. Challoner’s devotion to her daughter is perfectly illusionless, but none the less compelling; her own happiness, therefore, must wait. She allows herself to be hustled aboard the liner by the resolute and ruthless little huntress; and with the secret pain in her heart driven deeper by every throb of the outward-bound screws, and by every day that passes without the arrival of David’s radio, she watches with whimsical and understanding eyes the life of the ship. Deeply bored by the commonplace, and repelled by the second-rate, she finds with the touchstone of her own sensitiveness an answering sensitiveness here and there: in the ship’s doctor, with his look of scarring experience; in Mr. Piggott, the corset manufacturer; in Miss Joy, the young mother of the irresistible but unlawful baby in the next cabin. The power of her sympathy reminds one of Robert Frost’s
Though . . . repose May be the thing you have n’t, yet you give it.
Across the pages of the novel, wit sparks electrically; and if the click of the switch is heard now and then, it is very faint. There is emotional power too; in the round that the shameless baby fights with death, for instance, and in the numb anguish of the last pages. In its use of the Stream of Consciousness method, and in Mrs. Challoner’s trick of thinking in analogies, the novel seems to follow the work of Virginia Woolf; but it is less subtle, less original, less instinct with feeling for the beauty of the earth. The chief difference, however, is in the spirit. For Green Forest, for all its savagely ironical turn of events, has at its core not irony but sentiment.