If ROMAIN GARY’S new novel, THE SKI BUM (Harper & Row, $4.95), is not chuckled over, shivered with, and generally enjoyed by vast numbers of admirers, romantic reading’s dead and gone; it’s with old Dumas in the grave. Not that the book is a costume piece. It is set in modern Switzerland and concerns secret bank accounts, smuggled gold, and true love. The characters are a crew of garrulously disgruntled young people, so annoyed by the mess that their elders have made of the world that they propose either to resign from the human race or to blow something up. This last theme produces, at least once a month, a large, dull, suicidal novel of enormous literary pretensions. The Ski Bum is nothing of the sort. It pokes sly fun at the whole genre and endows its blabbermouth juveniles with the most steadily amusing dialogue I have read in a long time. Mr. Gary has brought off a difficult trick. He maintains, convincingly, the authentic tones of high-minded undergraduate banality without ever arousing the boredom that in real life inevitably follows this kind of prattle.
Although not as elaborate as The Ski Bum, or as expert (it is, after all, a first novel), HAL DRESNER’S THE MAN WHO WROTE IHRTY BOOKS (Simon and Schuster, $3.95) is also a very funny tale. It is told through letters exchanged among the hero, whose dirty books are evidently no more than the sexy melodrama to be found on any paperback counter, his useless but enthusiastically helpful editor, a sporting friend in Florida, a German psychiatrist sending out questionnaires on pornography, two law firms, and a mad retired naval officer who is suing the innocent author for libeling his daughter. This cast offers quite a variety of victims for satirical burlesque, and Mr. Dresner puts them all through a fine string of pratfalls. His best targets are the law, the FBI (don’t ask me how they got in there), and the literary life. It would not be quite true to report that The Man Who Wrote Dirty Books contains no word capable of bringing the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty, but it is perfectly true that the thing is neither a dirty book nor about them.
In ARCHITECTURE WITHOUT ARCHITECTS (The Museum of Modern Art, $6.95), BERNARD RUDOFSKY presents a collection of photographs of what he calls “non-pedigreed” dwellings. They include caves, grass huts, old fortifications, Mediterranean hillside towns, and Chinese villages dug underground. Mr. Rudofsky offers little information about the construction of these affairs, and none at all about the health or habits of those who live in them. The pictures, which have been on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, simply illustrate the enormous visual charm and undoubted practicality of structures contrived by traditional builders out of local materials. Some of them look like deathtraps, and others — the false-domed houses of Apulia, for instance — look absolutely bewitching.
LEOPOLDO CASTEDO’S THE BAROQUE PREVALENCE IN BRAZILIAN ART (Charles Frank, $12.50) suffers from the excessive quotation of authorities dedicated to aesthetic-philosophical jargon, but it also offers fine photographs of Brazilian buildings and sculpture from the earliest colonial times to the present. And when Mr. Castedo speaks with his own voice, his ideas and interpretations are interesting.
A. L. ROWSE has written two books about Shakespeare and now produces one on CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE (Harper & Row, $5.95). A solid expert on the prose facts ot Elizabethan history, Mr. Rowse approaches poetry via his own extension of the road to Xanadu, foot-slogging solemnly after borrowings, derivations, influences, and echoes in the belief that they will eventually prove something beyond the existence of borrowings, derivations, et cetera. He does not always play his own game fairly, either, for if the appearance of the word “argosy" in both The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice signifies wonders, surely there must be mighty meaning in the phrase “air and fire,”which Drayton applied to Marlowe’s work and Shakespeare applied to the Dauphin’s horse. This is a coincidence which Mr. Rowse, to my disappointment, altogether ignores.