The Novel Abroad

A NOVEL of the bullfight and modern Spain is Matador, by Marguerite Steen (Little, Brown, $2.50). All who have read Death in the Afternoon will fall upon this fictional interpretation of the famous Spanish sport, which here, as in Hemingway, is half sodden butchery, half Greek tragedy.
The great matador of the title has already retired. ‘Bailarin’ (so called because of the dancing steps by which he approached his bulls) is a widower and respected citizen of Granada. His ambition now is for his three sons. The oldest one, Pepe, is already a matador. Foolhardy, dissipated and flashy, he is without his father’s genius. Such a matador may please foreigners, but not the old-fashioned native connoisseurs. Miguel, a cripple, is to become a priest. Juan, the youngest, loathes and fears the bullfighting profession which his father tries to force upon him. All of the three brothers have an expulsive force about them. Obviously they are born to disappoint their father. Miguel will revolt against the priesthood. Juan will love the young girl Pepe jilts and his own father loves. He will refuse to become a matador. From the beginning Pepe is doomed to die, disgraced, upon the horns of a bull. Each in his own way strikes at ‘Bailarin’s’ pride, and pride is his ruling trait.
Matador is vigorous, by no means unsubtle. It is highly colored, romantic, and never dull. It carries with it a convincing air of reality, yet an air of reality is not quite the same as reality itself. Until page 321 we are completely convinced. This is indeed Spain, and these proud folk are indeed Spaniards. But with the actual appearance of Pepe’s American love one begins to wonder. Can it be that to a Spaniard the sawdust runs out of the Spanish characters as profusely as it does out of the American to us? As a serious interpretation of modern Spain, only a few of us can judge the book. As a picture of Spain and her people as we have always imagined them to be, and as an exciting, brilliantly told story, it is grand reading.
Pictured on the paper jacket of The Ginger Griffin, by Ann Bridge (Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $2.50), are the slightly stereotyped face of a girl and the head and neck of a bewitching pony. Behind them both is China, represented by a cloudy blue dragon. The artist has the essence of the book. Amber Harrison is the quite ordinary girl all of us have known and many of us have been. But the Ginger Griffin and the other Chinese racing ponies are something quite new. China itself is only a flatly washed-in background for this story of love, racing, and Peking’s diplomatic set.
Amber is a hard heroine to present. Her only neurosis is a vague inferiority complex, her beauty a youthful prettiness. Her thinking is honest but muddled. She wins our interest rather slowly — but on the whole soundly. In England, we take it, she had n’t shone much, but in the nice-girl-starved European society of Peking she is spectacular. Certain of the men, like Benenden, will always rush the last girl out from England, for the last girl has the clothes and the novelty. Luckily for Amber, not all the breedy young men about the embassy are like the unstable (but beloved) Benenden. There is good old Joe — the ‘unclever one.’
Here is the same background as in Peking Picnic. It has the same wit, combined with wisdom, a light touch, and an inner gravity. Added to all this is the racing. It was not necessary to like horses to enjoy the first book. I am not sure that you have to like them to enjoy The Ginger Griffin, but it will help. Amber’s racing stable of Chinese ponies that look ’like pigs — no necks, you know, no withers,’ is a large part of the book. The flat race and the steeplechase are carried on with the help of these wild animals in a manner becoming to serious British sporting traditions. For the big race the banks are closed, society assembles.
Many an American will see Peking, and not Paris, as the place he would like to go when he dies. Gentlemen, a racing stable started on three hundred dollars! Ladies, what a superabundance of servants and no problem of how to find an ‘extra man’! Ladies and gentlemen, what food, what service, what drinks!
Yet ‘most girls leave Peking engaged,’ says Mrs. Leicester to the newly arrived Amber, ‘ usually to the wrong man, and nearly all women leave it with a broken heart.’ There is a convincing air of emotional instability to the small, isolated group dropped into Peking by the sovereign will of a Foreign Office or Big Business. They hardly seem to know what they are there for themselves. The book is amusing as you read it. The memory of it is a little poignant.