Gallions Reach

by H. M. Tomlinson. New York: Harper and Bros. 1927. 12mo, xii+ 283 pp. Illus. $2.50.
BAEDEKER tells you that Gallions Reach is a stretch of the Thames beyond Woolwich. ‘On the left are the east entrances to the Victoria and Albert Docks, and then Beckton, with its gas works, close to Barking Creek.’ But to Mr. Tomlinson Gallions Reach is more than a bit of turbid river lined with docks and gas works and decayed buildings and mean streets. There are ships and strange cargoes and traffickings with remote places — Borneo, Penang, Colombo, Rangoon; and there are dreams. So Gallions Reach is a symbol of romance. It is an unusual romance that is here presented. The hero is fundamentally unheroic; not gay, audacious, dominant over circumstance, according to precedent, but contemplative, almost without exception passive, the recorder, not the maker, of events. The heroine is shadowy, and soon fades into unlamented oblivion. The characteristic turbulence of the older romances is not lacking; but murder, shipwreck, and tropical adventure take on a curiously casual and incidental aspect as they are seen reflected in the hero’s mind, and there are subdued to the tone of accompanying meditations upon words, and seamen, and crowds, and books, and ancient fables, and gods.
However, to characterize the novel as unusual is not by any means to condemn it, but merely to try to come to an understanding of it. Mr. Tomlinson’s essential task is to acquaint the reader with a romantic personality — the personality of James Colet, for a long time a clerk in the shipping office of Perriam, Limited, then a refugee on an ocean freighter, one of a group of castaways on the glaring Arabian Sea, an explorer in the Siamese jungle. Colet is a romantic personality, not so much because he is submitted to extraordinary experiences as because he is responsive to the mysterious elements in all experience. He is not weakly romantic, but he perceives and ponders the hidden, the enigmatical, the magical in life. For him these exist none the less in the dreary alleys of London slums than in the gloom of tropical forests. He broods over the tantalizingly elusive significance of things. For him there is always something unexplained around the corner, or over the horizon, that challenges him, discourages him, inspires him. It is in the excitements of this inner life that the real romance is to be found.
In selecting such a theme for his first novel Mr. Tomlinson was wise, for he is thereby enabled to be most like himself. The subtle and discriminating knowledge of the great seaport that was displayed in London River, the descriptive skill that was revealed in Tide Marks with its pageantry of the Orient, the contemplative penetration of the earlier essayist, and his ability to fashion for his use a medium of prose at once delicate and strong and beautiful — all these find fitting place in Gallions Reach. If the various elements are not completely fused, if promise exceeds achievement and luminosity is not quite attained, none the less the novel is more interesting and significant than many a story that slides securely over the surfaces of human existence.
The books selected for review in the Atlantic are chosen from lists furnished through the courteous coöperation of such trained judges as the following: American Library Association Booklist, Wisconsin Free Library Commission, and the public-library staffs of Boston, Springfield (Massachusetts), Newark, Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis, and the Pratt Institute Free Library of Brooklyn. The following books have received definite commendation from members of the Board: —