DAVID JONES’S book about his service with the Welsh Fusileers in World War I, IN PARENTHESIS (Chilmark, $5.75), has at last been published here. It originally appeared in England in 1937, with the enthusiastic support of T. S. Eliot, to whose poetry Mr. Jones appears mildly indebted. The book is extraordinary and quite unlike anything else that I can think of. Not really reminiscence, certainly not a novel, it describes the rifleman’s experience of trench warfare as a poet and artist recalled it twenty years later. Mr. Jones wrote In Parenthesis for the same reason that Bernal Díaz del Castillo wrote his history of the Cortes expedition: other men’s accounts of the business struck him as far from the facts. One can see why. Mr. Jones is perfectly well aware of the unpleasantness of being shot at and the difficulties of boiling water for tea in a December drizzle, but he saw the war, for all its horrors and absurdities, as a continuation of a heroic tradition. Possibly he was the last man, aside from generals, to do so. The hook is full of war cries and trumpet calls from the shadowy depths of Welsh legend, and King Arthur is as real to the author as the Germans, and infinitely more important.
War books ( those of generals again excepted) tend to fall into two classes. They are written by Achilles, a rather embarrassing pitch when the long-suffering, direly doomed hero survives to tell about his own great deeds, or by Odysseus, who reports acidly that the affair was partly horrible, partly funny, and in any case, well over. In Parenthesis belongs to neither group. It is the work of Calchas and rings with a strange, oracular wisdom.
FLANN O’BRIEN’S THE HARD LIFE (Pantheon, S3.50) is a comic Irish novel that derives its effect from an absolutely deadpan approach, for the narrator is a small boy who, for the better part of the time, has only the foggiest notion of what he is describing. Young Finnbarr commands a glorious version of the English language combined with a totally impartial view of adult actions. The two things produce remarkable results.
INTERCHANGE (Knopf, $2.95), a first novel by JUDITH SHATNOFF, is described by the publishers as comic, It is certainly witty, for Miss Shatnoff hones a razor-sharp phrase and can spoof the eccentricities of the fashionable Salinger school with great skill, but if it is a joke, it is of the sick, sick, sick variety. Miss Shatnoff has started with some stock figures—soulless businessmen, soulful female, intellectual lover - of the sort that infest recent fiction, and has turned them backward. The wife is a dolt, the intellectual is a fraud, the businessman suffers from exotic sensibilities.
This notion is amusing up to a point, but the author has not developed it beyond the initial reversal of characters. Interchange is clearly a satire, but of what, precisely, never is known, for the book stops before the author gets around to defining her target. The novel is nevertheless interesting and an exceptionally promising work.
KATHARINE M. JONES has edited an anthology, LADIES OF RICHMOND (Bobbs-Merrill, $6.00), composed of extracts from the letters and diaries of Richmond women during the Civil War. The literary talents of the ladies vary widely, but they manage to convey, under the skillful arrangement of Miss Jones, a vivid picture of life in the Confederate capital.
BABETTE DEUTSCH’S revised POETRY HANDBOOK (Funk & Wagnalls, $3.95) was designed primarily for verse writers, but it is worth the consideration of verse readers as well.
Miss Deutsch explains clearly how various poetical devices work, which is not an easy thing to do in all cases, and illustrates them by examples chosen with what can best be described as brilliant practicality.
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