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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 6 (September 1, 1937.)

Among the Books — A Literary Page or Two

page 54

Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two

From a sales point of view it must be taken for granted that Miss Nelle Scanlan is New Zealand's most successful novelist. Since “The Top Step,” her first novel was published in 1931, she has written eight books all of which have run to three or four and more editions. Sales are very consoling, but I am sure that Miss Scanlan is aiming at something more than this. In fact this is evident from the steady progress in style in each successive book. Has she developed a distinctive style of her own? After reading her eighth and latest novel, “Leisure for Living,” I may reply emphatically in the affirmative. This is her best and most sincere work to date. Her characterisations have depth. Her observations on nature and on man are worth while. Her dialogue is brisk and her plot construction sound, at times perhaps a little laborious, but this is a minor fault and shows conscientiousness. The story will appeal to all, but most of all to Wellingtonians, for it breathes deeply of the wind and the sun and the hills of Wellington. Uncle Mortimer is a character worthy almost of Galsworthy. This mercenary social climber stands out so clearly from the book. And each of his two nephews and two nieces (the Marions) are etched in deep distinctive lines. Under the presiding genius of their uncle these four and their mother scheme at times successfully, and at times disastrously, for the accumulation of the money that will give them social eminence and the leisure for living. It is such a wholesome story, yet Miss Scanlan can extract the full rich colours of romance from a simple (non lingering) kiss. Herein she displays art indeed.

The story moves from Wellington to London, and finally returns to the capital city, and if some of the younger Marions have not secured for themselves the leisure for living, they have gathered to themselves something more precious.

* * *

Big cash prizes are being offered to writers in connection with Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations. The competitions which are open to New Zealand writers include £80 for the best short story, £125 for a full length play, £50 for a short poem, £100 for a long essay, etc. Details from Box 3845T, G.P.O., Sydney.

* * *

A literary project dear to the heart of C. R. Allen, the New Zealand poet and novelist, is the publication of the New Zealand anthology of short stories promoted abroad by Miss Edith Fry. Now, after many months of selection the job is in the hands of the printer, George Blows, the Borough Press, Henley-on-Thames. Hugh Walpole has promised to write a foreword. There are eighteen contributors and about thirty stories.

* * *

In the July issue of this magazine I quoted from a remarkable letter
Another bookplate designed by Merv. Taylor, of Wellington.

Another bookplate designed by Merv. Taylor, of Wellington.

received by a Dunedin resident from George Bernard Shaw re Frank Harris's biography of Shaw. In this letter Shaw stated that Harris “had made such a hopeless mess of the job” that he (Shaw) had to re-write much of the book himself. This to my mind had such an important significance in relation to Robert Sherard's book. “Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris and Oscar Wilde,” that I sent a copy of the letter to Sherard. The following interesting reply has reached me by air mail:—

“This is to acknowledge the receipt this morning of your letter of June 2nd, and to thank you for the appreciative words which you apply to my book exposing the perfidy of Frank Harris and—shall we say?—the imbecility of G. B. Shaw. I am afraid though his motive in abusing Wilde and backing Harris's foul farrago proceeded rather from his characteristic jealousy of his superiors in the art of letters. The extract from his letter to the correspondent in Dunedin is a useful addendum to my dossier about G. B. Shaw. I shall, however, make no use of it as he is an old, old man, and I would not want to hurt his feelings. If (which is highly improbable) I outlive him, I may use it in the sense you suggest in your letter. I enclose copies of two letters, one by Hugh Kingsmill (whose father, Sir Henry Lunn, has just celebrated his golden wedding to Hugh Kingsmill Lunn's mother) to me, and the other written in 1918 to Dr. Williamson by the Sullivan (Sir Edward) whom Harris quoted on Wilde at Portora. I think the paragraph I have marked with blue pencil in this letter would alone have justified my book.”

* * *

A recently published booklet that should be in big demand at home and abroad is “New Zealand's Labour Government—Its First Year of Office.” The author is Mr. James Thorn, M.P., and he is to be congratulated on his 62 page survey of Labour legislative and administrative achievements. A clear, concise and well arranged record. If it runs to a second edition an index would be helpful.

page 55


John Lee's Outstanding War Novel.

“Civilian Into Soldier,” by John Lee, is the most arresting and most individual novel yet written by a New Zealander. It is also one of the greatest in the world's field of war novels. After reading it one can never forget it. It is so different, but not different in style from the two earlier novels by the same author, for John Lee has created a style of his own, and it is a fine rhythmic style, full of rich red corpuscles circulating round the strong literary heart-beat of his novels. The story is of a young idealist from New Zealand, John Guy, who carries under his tunic through the hell of battle a copy of old Omar and the lock of a girl's hair. John Guy loathes this terrible military machine, but often is inebriated as it were by the blood around him, and lusts only for carnage and plunder and for the wine and women of the aftermath. His initiation at Sling Camp is a powerful indictment against militarism, but surely such a loathsome figure as R.S.M. Angley could never have existed? Then comes the gradual transition to the front line leading up to the terrible tragedy of Messines. Here the author rises to literary heights. The massing of the terrific word pictures is a triumph. In parts it is unforgettably horrible. In fact, it must be stated plainly that great and all as the book is, it is not one for everybody. In parts it is raw meat—dripping red. But to give a faithful picture, and John Lee's innate sincerity could not permit otherwise, one must call a spade a spade, or, should I say, an R.S.M. a blank, blank. John Lee lifts the lid off hell and throws the lid away. And let all who look into the ghastly cauldron pray that another war may never come to the Empire.

The book is published by T. Werner Laurie, Whitcombe and Tombs, Ltd., being the New Zealand agents.

“How to Win Friends and Interest People,” by Dale Carnegie (Angus and Robertson, Sydney) is described as “the world's No. 1 best seller of 1937.” The book is succinctly described on its jacket as being “the direct result of a lifetime's research and experience, and is the only genuinely practical manual of its kind ever written to help people to solve their daily problems in human relationships.” Certainly this should be a most helpful book for thousands of people. It tells in a simple practical fashion how to “get on with people,” and how to make them like you. Because the author shows you how to win people over to your ideas the motive behind the idea is not one of selfishness, rather one of diplomatic or tactful selflessness. And for husbands and wives there is a section of such rock bottom commonsense advice that if it were acted on, half of the world's divorce court judges would be out of their jobs to-morrow. The business man is especially catered for. The chapter “Letters that Produced Miraculous Results,” should be a small gold mine for many businesses. The book should have a big sale in these parts.

* * *

“Shanghai,” by Edmund Barclay (Angus and Robertson, Sydney) had me expectant as soon as I saw the author's name, for I remembered the thrill I was given by his earlier book, “Khyber.” Barclay takes us to China in his latest book and shows a knowledge of the wonderful East equal to the knowledge of India that he displayed to us in his “Khyber.” Leaving aside the fictional aspect of the book, the author's pictures of Shanghai and other parts of China should capture everybody. Wrapped up in a truly thrilling story the book has a twofold appeal. Love, adventure and intrigue revolve with almost bewildering rapidity round the central characters, “Jerry,” his sweetheart, Shaio Pao, the beautiful and mysterious Chinese princess, and Dr. Sheng, who loves beauty more than the multitude of evil schemes he is engaged in.

“Shibli” Listens in.

Two successful New Zealand novels now available in cheap editions of 4/6 are Robin Hyde's “Passport to Hell,” and John Guthrie's “The Little Country.”

* * *

Miss Eileen Duggan's poems will be published shortly by Allen and Unwin.

* * *

“Man Marches On,” by Mr. A. E. Mander, of Wellington, is due to be published shortly.