Recapture the Moon

by Sylvia Thompson
[Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $2.50]
THOSE who read at its publication, years ago, Sylvia Thompson’s first novel, The Hounds of Spring, must remember the curious sense of freshness and luminousness that was distilled from its pages — essentially tragic, though the book was, with the smashing tragedy of first youth. In Recapture the Moon the golden light is gone, but the effect of vitality and immediacy is the same. In this novel the author seems once more to have been, as it were, taken up and shaken by her theme — with the result of surpassing her work of the intervening years.
Like all good titles of fiction, the title of this book suggests but does not altogether reveal. Nor does it betray before the end whether or not it is ironic. The narrative opens with admirable suddenness. The emotional intensity of the novel is great. It is established within the first few pages, and is felt underneath and throughout the book, whether the author’s theme is an individual agony or the mechanical gayety of a decadent post-war society. The portrayal of character, to the best of my recollection, is the author’s keenest and most varied.
If there is less of the poet in the woman who has written Recapture the Moon than there was in the girl who wrote The Hounds of Spring, there is far more of the wit. The blade of Miss Thompson’s maturer satire has never flashed faster, I think, than in this book, nor has its point been sharper. It would be difficult to believe that her report of Lady Cable’s speech at the dedication of the village War Memorial, for example, is not written out of an ancient hate. It is not the purpose of this angry and compassionate book to decorate its design with poetry.
A good guarantee of vitality in a novel is that its author be more or less in love with a principal character. In Recapture the Moon this condition seems to me to be fulfilled. The elusive but conquering Louis Scheurer has conquered his creatrix thoroughly. In real life the attempt to impose one’s own subjugations upon others is likely to be a lost struggle; but on paper Miss Thompson easily wins. She wins in spite of her dangerous insistence upon Louis’s famous charm.
She wins justly; for she not only vouches for the charm but makes it felt. Broken-hearted Pagliaccio capering and screaming with laughter in his anguish has always been a popular figure. Louis Scheurer’s civilized but often quite mad clowning — sometimes witty, sometimes the wildest buffoonery — has a sentimental appeal for the reader. For Louis, a high-strung, nerve-racked creature, an aviator with his brilliant service in the war not far behind him, is tormented almost to unbalance by the fact that his great wealth is the fruit of his father’s manufacture of munitions.
If I have made Louis sound like a stereotype. I have been misleading. His individuality is strong, and the novel owes much to his electric presence.