Thursday, April 27, 2017

"The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies": Book Review

The Harvard Classics: Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies
This anthology reminds me of the belletrist, when a newspaper or magazine could afford to host an erudite raconteur to relate his likes and dislikes. Robertson Davies' selected book reviews from the middle-on of the last century, originally published in 1979, recall the age of comfortable chairs and book reviews aimed at the discerning common reader. "Is there anyone who does not know something of the life and career of Sydney Smith"?

Well, I confess as with a few of the (once-)celebrated figures he praises, I knew nothing. I skimmed some entries, but I liked their brevity. One indulgence Davies displays is that he may only at the end of a piece mention the work under scrutiny, or its editor or particular features. He's often content to ramble on for a few pages about his own attitude towards the subject. He may rarely cite passages verbatim, and he prefers to meander.

Yet, glimmers emerge of Davies' preference for the twisted, the odd, the misfit, same as those characters he dramatized in his own offbeat fiction. Speaking of Mervyn Peake's "Gormenghast" as a "startling and meaty novel, if you happen to have tired of dreary tales of adultery in suburbia, of the despair of illiterates that have never known hope, of pin-heads who fear that they are incapable of love, or any of the other stock themes of modern fiction," (201), the critic and fabulist commingle.

The third part of this collection takes up Davies' own predilections, but it seemed flimsier than the reviews, and even these, for all their eclectic range, by their compact nature did not allow (as on his fellow muse John Cowper Powys) the necessary depth that would have allowed Davies the space to expand his glimpsed observations and extend his snippets of analysis. (Amazon US 2/3/17)

No comments: