Magazine article The Spectator

Teasing the Modern Minotaur

Magazine article The Spectator

Teasing the Modern Minotaur

Article excerpt

PLAY RESUMED by D. J. Enright OUP, 18, pp. 220

When D. J. Enright published this book's predecessor some reviewers suggested that its place was the bedside or the lavatory. No disparagement of the volume's content was intended: it is simply that commonplace books of this kind so challenge contemporary classification that their natural whereabouts in the house is offered as an indication of their ragbag nature - one that is best savoured a page at a time.

Play Resumed is a collectanea that reflects, primarily, the obsession of a man of letters with the written word. An American commentator, complimenting its author on a previous publication, insists on `person of letters', presumably unaware that so silly and inelegant a substitution is the kind of linguistic vandalism Mr Enright deplores. You do not have to read him to suspect that our language is endangered by political correctness, the Internet, the overuse of computers, and bad teachers. But he leaves you in little doubt that what suspicions you may already have are not misplaced.

A similar deterioration in manners, decency and related aspects of human behaviour is reflected upon with humour and curiosity. The recollections that are assembled and tidily interwoven serve to nourish a slender book. A lifetime's reading enriches it. The bleak pavements of Grub Street, day jobs in academe and in publishing supply its human interest.

D. J. Enright has written four novels and a considerable canon of poetry, has shared the editorship of Encounter, and been responsible for anthologies of Death, the Supernatural, and Contemporary Verse. There is something pleasantly oldfashioned about his scholarship, refreshingly without trace of the weightiness that so often disguises academic ambition. It seems apt that it was left to Singapore to make him a professor.

He wears that garb without fuss, his ambition still limited to getting things right: words, thoughts, order on the page. Arrival at the truth matters most of all, yet hardly anything encountered on the way is without its moments of interest. That the footballer Eric Cantona has appeared in a painting as the figure of Christ resurrected is worth pausing to think about. …

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