The Condemned Playground: Essays: 1927-1944

By Cyril Connolly | Go to book overview

II
NINETY YEARS OF NOVEL-REVIEWING

THE REVIEWING OF NOVELS IS THE WHITE MAN'S GRAVE OF journalism; it corresponds, in letters, to building bridges in some impossible tropical climate. The work is gruelling, unhealthy, and ill-paid, and for each scant clearing made wearily among the springing vegetation the jungle overnight encroaches twice as far. A novel-reviewer is too old at thirty; early retirement is inevitable, "les femmes soignent ces infirmes féroces au retour des pays chauds," and their later writings all exhibit a bitter and splenetic brilliance whose secret is only learnt in the ravages on the liver made by their terrible school. What a hard-boiled, what a Congo quality informs their soured romanticism! Invalided out only in February, my memory is still fresh with the last burgeoning of prolific and uniform shrubs and bushes. Those leathery weeds, so hard to kill, at first attract through the beauty of their flowers -- the blurb or puff "splurging," as a botanist has described it, "its gross trumpet out of the gaudy wrapper." Wiry, yet insipid, characterless, though bright, these firstflowering blooms of Girtonia or Ballioli are more oppressive in their profusion, most reviewers will agree, than the forest giants, the Galsworthys and Walpoleworthys, whose creeperclad trunks defy attempts to fell them.

An unpleasant sight in the jungle is the reviewer who goes native. Instead of fighting the vegetation, he succumbs to it, and, running perpetually from flower to flower, he welcomes each with cries of "genius!" "What grace, what irony and distinction, what passionate sincerity!" he exclaims as the beaming masterpieces reproduce themselves rapidly, and only from the banned amorphophallus, "unpleasant, dreary, difficult, un-English," he turns away his eyes.

Another sight for the cynic is the arrival of the tenderfoot who comes fresh from the university and determined, "above all, to be just -- to judge every book on its merits -- not to be

-90-

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The Condemned Playground: Essays: 1927-1944
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction xi
  • I - The Position of Joyce 1
  • II - Ninety Years Of Novel-Reviewing 90
  • III - Spring Revolution 174
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