Mary Hocking Essay - Critical Essays

Hocking, Mary


Hocking, Mary 1921–

Hocking is a British novelist.

Janet Burroway

Mary Hocking writes with very little of that verve that makes [Alan] Sillitoe good company on a London-to-Nihilon Express, but The Climbing Frame wins hands down at linking socialism with nihilism…. The Climbing Frame is a meticulous book about the tedious tragedies of running a school system. An aggressively unwed mother draws drama to herself over a playground accident that doesn't merit a sticking plaster. A combination of circumstance, buck-passing, political in-fighting, personality clash and a dearth of news escalate the incident toward national press and television coverage. It is the sort of local crisis that brings out the worst in both individuals and the system. The novel contains a disastrous magazine-style romance, and the situation itself is of a kind that commends itself to television series. What lifts it above this level is Mary Hocking's sharp, forgiving focus on the minds and motives of the little politicians. No slaughter here, but this nonsense is truly menacing. (p. 370)

Janet Burroway, in New Statesman (© 1971 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), September 17, 1971.

Before the psychiatrists made a fetish of it, novelists were quietly observing the tiny, crushing hypocrisies of family life and their effects. It would be a pity to say much about the actual plot of Family Circle, because it is unfolded through...

(The entire section is 518 words.)

Neil Hepburn

Quite a lot of what Miss Hocking writes is over-specific and obvious, but in some important ways her touch is very delicate. The relationship developing between Hannah and the isolated figure of the local newspaper editor [in The Bright Day] is extremely well done, and what I take to be the key to the young MP's failure, his crypto-homosexuality, is almost too slyly hinted at. (p. 31)

Neil Hepburn, in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1975; reprinted by permission of Neil Hepburn), July 3, 1975.

Neil Hepburn

[In The Mind Has Mountains, Mary Hocking's story of] the breakdown of Tom Norris, Assistant Education Officer of a county about to be obliterated under the casual jackboot of a boundaries commission, there are no revenants, no demonic possessions, only the strangeness of human beings reacting to changes in themselves and their surroundings. Fortyish, Tom is distanced rather than estranged from his wife Isobel, worried by his dreams (in which the wolves return to his placid Sussex countryside), unsure of his identity, and near the end of the internal material from which he has successfully been fashioning children's stories for years. (pp. 486-87)

He does surprising, violent, mischievous things and at last, in the climax of a great snowstorm that obliterates all that is familiar to him, manages to break away from the dead shell of his past.

That he does so to retreat to a northern cottage, there to write the near-Shardik to follow his near-Watership Down, is something of an anti-climax; but then plain sanity after such crises of the spirit probably is anti-climactical. Miss Hocking's quiet, precise prose, anatomising this ordinary official's reconciliation with the extraordinariness of life, packs an astonishing emotional punch, and gives much satisfaction. (p. 487)

Neil Hepburn, in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1976; reprinted by permission of Neil Hepburn), October 14, 1976.

Nick Totton

Mary Hocking is acutely and probably permanently infected with truthfulness. The Mind Has Mountains explores the senses in which this condition is a matter of suffering, and those in which it is a matter for celebration. 'Some people manage to lose themselves forever out beyond the human stockade'; but others, like the protagonist and the author of this novel, accept the more difficult task of returning, and finding a way of communicating what they have seen. It isn't easy to tell: people are, quite reasonably, unwilling to be frightened, and it is necessary to be discreet; at the same time, it is only too easy to forget what one is talking about. Mary Hocking writes brilliantly on many levels at once, because she knows that the everyday contains another, stranger reality: it only takes attention, an at first casual intensification of vision, to open the crack between the worlds….

The Mind Has Mountains is a funny, serious book, to be read and reread: the kind of book that bides its time, perhaps remaining an innocuous entertainment for years until a reader is opened to it by explosive experience—'so that was what it meant!' It is a Steppenwolf for our time; and, I think, the equal of Hesse's. (p. 22)

Nick Totton, in The Spectator (© 1976 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), October 16, 1976.