IN this extraordinary novel there is every possibility of confusion, yet no confusion exists. The human dramas are played against the background of the period from the spring of 1939 to the summer of 1940, and the characters themselves are numerous and representative of many classes of English society. As the international situation develops and finally invades every privacy, the human situations are measured by the immensity of the times and stand or fall according to their worth. Hence, Bertrand Orr, a middle-aged bounder, becomes ridiculous; and the adulterous Flavia, her character tried by suffering and redeemed by the love of a manly man, Raymond Hammond, grows up and seems important as an individual even while history is rolling across every personal desire. We come to know these people, with frequent shifts in our opinion of them, just as we change our minds in the unfolding of actual intimacies. Mrs. Samuel, for example, seemed so vulgar when we first met her — and how splendid, how lovable, she turns out to be. On the other hand, Miriam moves from one selfishness to another until, under the great blaze of the war, she diminishes to another English embusquée seeking in New York a refuge for her witless good looks.
The book is presented in a series of episodes, each devoted to one or two members of an interlinking group. Each episode is introduced by an italicized quotation from the parliamentary debates which went on while the world was crashing — in order, no doubt, to emphasize the impact of the events against which the characters played their parts. This device seemed to me harmless, because, after the first three or four instances of it, I did not pay any attention to it. We all know those parliamentary debates and statements — alas, too well. Furthermore, Miss Colebrook’s characters are in no need of being reminded that their passions and lassitudes are performances on the world’s edge. The strength of the book lies in the fact that, although the episodes and characters are presented with the sharpness of the modern method, they are rounded out to three dimensions. In other words, Miss Colebrook has availed herself of the economy of the modern narrative without sacrificing the depth — the underpainting — of the old. I should not like to have missed this novel.
R. S. H.