Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 8. May 31, 1939
("Zoo"—by Louis MacNeice, Michael Joseph. Our copy from Whitcombe and Tombs.—13/6).
Louis MacNeice, who writes this book, is one of the three or four reputable poets writing in English at the present time. For a Job, he teaches university students Greek.
"Zoo" is a literary diversion; a sort of sideline; an immensely entertaining book, without 'motive,' existing by its own right.
Louis MacNeice is writing about the Zoo merely because he like writing about the Zoo—for its own sake. And if the Zoo should prove the reason deter of a discussion of the lawn tennis championship at Wimbledon or of a dog show, is it not a thoroughly sufficient one?
Twenty-four hours a day of whatever is branded as serious—pamphleteering, preaching, praying, goose-stepping, grinding axes—would soon kill off the human race.
The writing throughout is civilized, sensitive, intelligent, delightful. Here is Mr. MacNiece being typically himself.
"The pleasure of dappled things, the beauty of adaption to purpose, the glory of extravagance, classic elegance or romantic nonsense and grotesquerie—all these we get from the Zoo. We react to these with the same delight us to new potatoes speckled with chopped parsley or to the lights at night on the Thames of Battersea Power House, or to cars sweeping their shadows from lamppost to lamp-post down Haverstock Hill or to brewers' drays or to lighthouses and searchlights or to a newly cut lawn or a hot towel or a friction at the barber's or to Moran's two classic tries at Twickenham in 1937 or to the smell of dusting powder in a warm bathroom on to the fun of shelling peas Into a china bowl or of shuffling ones feet through dead leaves when they are crisp or to the noise of rain or the crackling of a newly lit fire or the jokes of a street hawker or the silence of snow in moonlight or the purring of a powerful car."
Any single page has good things like this on It—an image, an anecdote, or a turn of phrase.
Animal after animal is particularized and transformed. They become the seeing—smelling—hearing inhabitants of a world that is a cross between a music hall and a museum, a world that excites our intellectual curiosity and our physical sympathy. And in this enchantingly real world there are people as well as animals— and they come in for Just as exacting observation.
Besides Louis MacNeice's writing there are drawings by Nancy Sharp. These are realist precise, inimitable. The supercilious Llama, the phlegmatic wart-hog, the affable polar bear are all there alive between the pages.
"Zoo" is a book to read and relish, now and in the days to come.