Three brief book reviews

Charles Dickens and Early Victorian England, by R. J. Cruikshank. Chanticleer Press, $1.50.
Summing up the Victorian age, Mr. Cruikshank writes: “Its intellectual curiosity, its moral obliquities, its economic anarchy, its political wisdom, its culture, its cruelty, its sensitiveness — all these were of a piece.”They arc discerningly pieced together in Mr. Cruikshank’s crowded volume. The author, editor of the London News Chronicle, is thoroughly steeped both in Dickens and in Dickens’s England, and he writes about both with considerable verve, a distinctive style, and a critical eye. His handsomely illustrated book is a delightful piece of informal history.
A Wreath and a Curse, by Donald Wetzel.Crown, $2.50.

Mr. Wetzel’s first novel, an allegory of man’s apathy and stupidity in the face of certain disaster, centers on the efforts of a ten-year-old, Willie, to persuade his family to take action against the steady crumbling of the riverbank beside which their house stands, before the arrival of the autumn floods. Dad dodges his responsibility with a letter to the legislature. Mother, immersed in the household routine, cheerfully leaves the responsibility to God. Their married daughter, obsessed with her own beauty and shoddy emotions, doesn’t know the meaning of responsibility. And her husband, an engineer, can’t think beyond the gadgets in his workshop. The family’s drift toward catastrophe and the small boy’s pathetic struggle to build a wall against the river are narrated by Willie’s crippled elder brother, an impotent and hitter spectator.

Mr. Wetzel’s tale is skillfully charged throughout with the tension of impending doom.

The Nine Lives of Europe,

by Leo Lania. Funk & Wagnalls, $3.50.

Mr. Lania’s book is “a combination of a report on the present economic and political conditions of Europe and an analysis of its spiritual and intellectual development since the end of the war.” The chief new information it has to offer is the notes on post-war European writing. As a commentator, Mr. Lania scores his freshest points, rather surprisingly, in the pages on Britain; he is weakest when pontificating on how to win the cold war (his reasoning implies that the Russians would abide by agreements).

Mr. Lania, who is starry-eyed in comparison with today’s chastened liberals, sees in democratic socialism the “new living faith" that will cure Europe’s spiritual malaise.

The Nine Lives of Europe is moderately interesting in places, but poorly put together throughout.