The Companion

Mrs. Crystal is the perfect caricature of the social class she represents: carping, stingy, pretentious, perhaps mad, and insufferably demanding. Phyllis is, of course, nearly everything Mrs. Crystal is not, but while much of the novel’s humor may derive from such simple oppositions of character and class, its effect derives from a different and deeper source. Although Phyllis’ meekness is mixed with a dose of comic malice, the resentment she feels never rises to the level of rebellion. She keeps her desires, including her minimal sexual longings, carefully in check as she becomes more and more what she has always been: a companion. In this role she occupies a kind of non-place somewhere between employee and spinster friend/sister/daughter. She is at once everything and nothing, necessary yet marginal. For all she suffers at the hands of others, however, she suffers most from her low-grade fears and limitations. Like her father, she lacks ambition, is easily contented, and prefers the confinement of routine.

There is therefore a certain sadness lurking behind the novel’s comic grotesquerie and microcosmic depiction of social change in present-day England. There is as well a sense of triumph, not at all sentimental. In THE COMPANION, marriage, family, romantic love, professions, and social class all fail, or at least prove wanting. Only the human need for companionship and the complementary need to serve seem to endure. This is the small but nevertheless noteworthy affirmation that Chaim Bermant makes in this seemingly effortless but surprisingly affecting comic novel.