The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
The Young Have Secrets
The Young Have Secrets. This is certainly James Courage's best effort. It was published in 1954, and met with instant recognition, being chosen by the Book Society for December of that year.
Its achievement is the portrait of a child, ten-year-old Walter Blakiston, to whose point of view the reader is restricted. This narrowed focus gives Courage dramatic economy of persons and dialogue. It is by now a well-known device for a certain sort of concentration, such as is achieved for instance in L. P. Hartley's The Go-Between, possibly an ancestor of The Young Have Secrets. Or there is Henry James's What Maisie Knew. Courage however is concerned more with Walter as a seeing eye than with Walter as a person; as a character he is rather misty.
The plot is neat and tidy, while the background of 1914 Christchurch is memorable. The emotions of the adults are still "strong", but are muted by the child's relative incomprehension. Walter is touched by their feeling only where it impinges upon his own private world.
It remains a question however whether any adults would so frequently confide their woes to childish ears; this is a necessity of the method, not of the characterisation. And is the symbolism too obvious?
Walter of course is the sensitive boy; fortunately there is also an insensitive, earthy one, the delightfully drawn Jimmy Nelson, with his even earthier mother, whose robust vulgarity is a welcome contrast to the expatriate gentility of the Garnetts. The book has a high professional polish on it, but leaves an uneasy impression of artificial contrivance.