In THE QUEENS AND THE HIVE (Atlantic-Little, Brown, $7.50), DAME EDITH SITWELL has succeeded in combining historical accuracy with poetical invention. It is dangerous to accuse a biographer — and essentially the book is a biography of Elizabeth I — of any invention at all, but that practiced by Dame Edith is of a peculiar and delightful sort. In telling the story of the struggle for possession of the crown of England among Mary Tudor, Elizabeth, and Mary of Scotland, the author constantly employs images, metaphors, and comparisons that can be paralleled in her poetry and that are altogether outside the habit, and probably the abilities, of more conventional scholars. These bees, flames, golden lions generate a light which falls strangely on familiar facts, not distorting, but revealing what was never noticed before. Frankly romantic in its love of pageantry and eloquence, the book conjures up the splendid, devious Elizabethan court with an enthusiasm that makes all these old plots and counterplots seem new. A series of appendixes contain information too peripheral for the main text and too fascinating for complete omission. Having gone to great trouble to discover the ingredients of an effective necromancer’s brew, Dame Edith quite rightly passes the recipe along to interested amateur chefs. It requires, among other items, a bat drowned in blood and the skull of a parricide. “Taking all things into consideration,” observes Dame Edith, “as the purpose of evoking the dead was to gain a fortune, I cannot but think that it would have been cheaper, and less trouble, to become a member of the Stock Exchange.”
THE ART OF INDOCHINA (Crown, $5.95) is the latest volume in the “Art of the World” series, and as usual with these books, it is admirably illustrated. DR. BERNARD PHILIPPE GROSLIER, the author, protests that lack of historical records and the limitations of the archaeological and anthropological research done so far in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia cause deplorable gaps in his work. This diffidence must spring from a bad case of scholar’s conscience, for despite the gaps, the text contains enough wellorganized information to keep a serious reader busy for weeks. The not so serious reader can dream happily over the colored pictures of Angkor.
EDWARD O. THORP, assistant professor of mathematics at New Mexico State University, gives hope to unsuccessful gamblers in BEAT THE DEALER:A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One (Blaisdell, $4.95). Mr. Thorp described his adventures at Las Vegas some months ago in the Atlantic, without telling exactly how his system works. He now explains the whole thing, and reduces parts of the system to diagrams that even a doit could carry in his memory. As a realist, he includes a dryly funny chapter on how to spot a cheating dealer and what to do about him — which turns out to be, quit.
Adorned by mad rhymes and untrammeled by meter, the verses of OGDEN NASH can cope with any subject worthy of disrespect. A quick riffle through EVERYONE BUT THEE AND ME (Little, Brown, $3.95), his latest collection, reveals Mr. Nash clobbering history, football, gracious living, and television announcers who put syllables in here (“moderen”) only to take them out there (“ornch”). He also deals with progress, which “may have been all right once, but it went on too long.”
MARTHA BACON’S novel A MASQUE OF EXILE (Clarkson Potter, $4.50) can be taken seriously, as a parable of our uncertain times, or lightly, as an extremely witty account of the affairs of a group of people who are all, in one way or another, misplaced. Even the setting is subtly awry — a Rhode Island mill town gone to seed but not, like most of its kind, willing to admit it. The clergyman has lost his faith, the mill owners are rapidly losing their money, the two English children have lost their country because Hitler’s war makes it unsafe to stay there, and the reader knows, as they do not, that when they go home nothing will be what they remember. When this crew of emotional gypsies undertakes to stage The Tempest in the garden, the affair becomes a riot in which manslaughter and a hurricane are mere walk-ons.