MR. BAKER subtitles his book “Fantasia on a Novel, but it is fantastical in content, not in form. It involves that old trick in which the real author writes the book being written by the author-hero of his novel. In this case the hero. Maurice Hilliar, gets no further than the first two paragraphs before consigning his opus to the flames, but Mr.Baker’s novel opens with these same two paragraphs, so the story is told all the same.
It is a ghostly story, woven about the eternal theme of man s spiritual loneliness and his efforts to relate himself to God and the world through art, religion, or polities. In 1943 Hilliar visits Allways, the deserted country house of the Reverend Fenner Doble, an Anglican priest who died there thirteen years ago, after having vowed to try to project his spirit into the future. Hypersensitive to all influences, since he is looking for a plot for a new novel. Hilliar immediately becomes aware of the presence of the former inhabitants of Allways and attempts in imagination to re-create their lives. The happy coincidence of Doble’s previous thoughts about the future and Hilliar’s preoccupation with the past combine to put the two men into vague but significant communication. They achieve a mystical identification that Hilliar has found impossible with his contemporaries.
The resolution is more adroit than satisfying. M hat Mr. Baker seems to be saying is that each man’s faith is the product of his own particular brand of creative imagination. But after following Hilliar through the slickly narrated trials of his search, one wonders that he ever reached the end, considering his haphazard approach. It’s a bit unconvincing to use the supernatural in order to supply a rationalization for man’s earthly existence. For this reason, and because the talk of the people is often more earnest than profound, Before I Go Hence is better read as a literate mystery story than as a philosophical novel.