Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

One major theme, manifest primarily in the struggles waged within Darcourt and Maria, is the seemingly eternal human struggle between intellect on the one hand and instinct, passion, and intuition on the other. In Hollier’s investigation of belief, his “paleopsychology,” the nonrational bases for knowledge are explored. Darcourt tries to balance himself between a rationalized religion and one accepting of faith in mystery and miracle. In the healthy individual, for Davies, these modes of receiving the world are not in conflict. This is the lesson of crown and root given to Maria by Parlabane.

Another of Parlabane’s lessons is derived from a saying by Paracelsus: “Let him not be another’s who is able to be his own.” This quest, abbreviated as Be Not Another’s for the title of Parlabane’s novel, requires the reconciliation mentioned above as well as a level estimate of the self that shatters flattering illusions. Maria, Darcourt, and Hollier all make adjustments of this kind; Parlabane himself cannot.

Yet without this disfigured parasite, this failed academic, this runaway monk, this murderer and suicide, the other characters would never have reached the levels of happiness and self-knowledge that they do. He is the unworthy and unwanted thing in their lives in which the truth resides. Knowledge is often to be found in places from which one instinctively turns away or overlooks. The research into human feces and personality types by Ozias Froats, Clement Hollier’s investigation of filth therapy, Madame Laoutaro’s magical bomari in which horse dung helps to revitalize violins, and the blessings of John Parlabane’s seemingly wasted life are all strands of this urgent, unusual, and wittily presented theme.

That truth hangs somewhere in a precarious but attainable balance is a meaning underscored by Davies’ narrative technique, a method in which chapters are told alternately by Darcourt and Maria. These two narrators have their prejudices, limitations, and strengths. Davies sets their related tales in motion and lets the reader determine the final balance.