Raven, Simon 1927–
Raven is a British novelist, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, and editor. A first-rate storyteller, he is known for his fast-paced social satires of the upper and upper-middle classes. Despite a simplistic approach to character and plot development, Raven's novels succeed as well-plotted entertainments, and have brought him a wide readership. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)
[If] you can plough through the first 130 pages [of The Feathers of Death], most of which are irrelevant, you will then be drawn into Mr. Raven's horrible world. As you lay down his book, you will bow in admiration to the clarity of his characterisation, the simplicity of his prose and the design of his plot. I greatly fear that he is a writer with a future, and I only hope I can discourage him.
His story is of a homosexual love affair (here we go again) between a god-like subaltern and an earth-child drummer. It is set against a background of peace-time soldiering in a troublesome colony where the regiment (which is neither cavalry nor infantry) is involved in some wog-suppression. It reaches an excellent climax in a sharp action against the natives, and the description of this battle … is masterly. There is no question at all that Mr Raven knows all the details of this sort of action and of other aspects of peace-time soldiering. There is also no question at all that he manages to present us with a totally false picture of British officers and men. A spell in the army and a spell in the classical sixth have produced not, as we might hope, a certain maturity of view, but an ugly case of astigmatism….
Dismissing all the intolerable and repetitive table-talk (and looking back on his first novel it is this stuff, not the sodomy, that will, I hope, turn Mr Raven into a pillar of salt), I'd take issue with him...
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Brother Cain is the oddest book I expect to read this year. Jacinth Crewe, after expulsion from school, premature departure from Cambridge, and enforced resignation from the Army, is taken on … by an international organisation bent on combating 'democratic excess and Communist exploitation.'… After a staggering indoctrination course, some tests and assorted sex, he ends up in Venice, confronting his assigned victims at a masked ball. With Jacinth's character, with his easy bisexuality, his Cambridge nostalgia and dreams, his peculiar concern with guarding his 'honour' (while fairly coolly going through with one of the nastiest acts imaginable), it would take an analyst to deal adequately. There are faint echoes of both Daisy Ashford and Ian Fleming in the chilly, jolly tone: 'after a busy evening spent buying cars and clothes, they had some dinner'—Mr. Raven frequently tells you what they had for dinner, and very nice too—but there is something that is Mr. Raven's own in the twists and turns down to a nightmare finale. Once past the early dream-sequences and organisational oratory, which I found elaborately dull, though ingenious, one is sucked along to the end. It is an unwholesome, caddish, talented book. (p. 559)
John Coleman, "The Facts of Fiction," in The Spectator (© 1959 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 203, No. 6852, October 23,...
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The very bulk of Raven's writing might suggest what a reading of his novels confirms: they are uneven in quality, occasionally repetitious and forced, and sometimes no more than entertaining. Only a few of them exhibit all of Raven's appreciable gifts as a novelist working together in harmony. These flaws should not, however, be allowed to obscure the fact that Raven is a serious and interesting novelist, whose works have yet to receive, at least in North America, the attention they deserve. (p. 106)
The action of Raven's novels all takes place within a world of privilege, leisure, and power, and it is his principal intention in them to describe, scrutinize, and judge the men who inhabit this world. The settings of major scenes are often described by Raven in careful and loving detail…. Raven is very good at rendering these settings and the activities they encompass…. Sometimes the function of these descriptions is purely decorative, but more often they are linked to the central themes and conflicts of the novels in such a way as to deepen and enrich them. When setting and theme are fully united the former become images of order, tradition, and seemliness (a favorite word of Raven's), or of their perversion. (p. 107)
What Raven anachronistically calls the "lower orders" seldom appear in his fiction except as private soldiers or servants. Another substantial portion of the human race who do not figure prominently...
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Bring Forth the Body is the penultimate volume in Simon Raven's Alms For Oblivion series, but it stands quite easily on its own as a separate novel. In fact, there's maybe too much ease: Captain Detterling and Leonard Perceval conduct a quiet investigation into the causes of Somerset Lloyd-Jones's suicide, and the book is simply a series of false leads which finally wind around to revelation. The tone, in this roundup of characters from earlier novels, progressively darkens; and Raven invents an effortless stream of comic moments….
Peter Straub, "Hot & Cold," in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 88, No. 2276, November 1, 1974, p. 627.∗
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There are a great many novels concerned with political intrigue, but none of them have Mr Raven's peculiarly steely glint. He is a master craftsman, who can change scenes and characters without overt discomfort; his prose is always amusing, elegant, intelligent and never below the belt. Where else except in a Raven novel [Bring Forth the Body] could you find an old whore called Maisie who calls everyone "duckie" and paints her clients, as it were, in oils? Or a maid known as Dolly who is both honest and hardworking? A certain Peregrina Lloyd-James who is bored rather than tired, and a detective sergeant who looks like a "jacketed barrel"? Anglo-Saxon attitudes are alive and well and being ruthlessly sent up.
There are some odd moments, of course, but they are no more serious than the occasional cross-bat stroke. It is only in a night-club known as Annabel's (which must surely be a fictional creation) that matters go seriously wrong. It is here that an orgy is held, but unhappily it turns out to be an orgy of sentiments. There is a masque with a moral, and it is a moral which becomes all too painfully clear when Somerset Lloyd-James, the deceased party, is found to have been disturbed by religious doubts before his suicide: "God is not mocked" was his password to Hell, which only goes to show that the upper classes have forsaken their old virtues of self-reliance and stolidity, and have come to rely upon cheap sentiment. But, all...
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The Survivors is the tenth and last volume in Simon Raven's 'Alms For Oblivion' sequence, and the death of culture is somehow mixed up in it with the extinction of the English gentleman. 'Such gentlemen as survive, though honourable and decent men, can only be seen as futile anachronisms when once one properly appreciates the present conditions of society,' Mr Raven wrote 15 years ago. His view has hardened since then, and his gentlemen are no longer honourable and decent….
The view of society put forward in these novels is not dissimilar to that found in the work of another Tory with a romantic view of the English gentleman, Evelyn Waugh. Both writers hankered to be 'gentlemen' themselves, and Raven in a semi-autobiographical book called The English Gentleman … writes amusingly about the vanity of his aspiration, which is perfectly expressed in the fact that a gentleman is never concerned with gentility. Both detest the spread of lower-middle-class morality that might be called Hooperism. In opposition to the various vulgarities of the modern world Raven invokes an ideal classicism, Waugh an ideal aristocracy. Both seem to believe that there are religious answers to the problems of the individual psyche. Both show a simple national patriotism ('British and proud of it,' as one Raven character says). The difference is that the abominable Waugh used his generally detestable or absurd ideas about society as material for...
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For all his worldly pagan sermonising, Simon Raven is as obsessed by sin and retribution as a hell-fire divine. This has been apparent from the very beginning of his Alms for Oblivion sequence, in the first volume of which the coarsegrained Jude Holbrook … is cruelly punished for his shystering by the death of his beloved young son. Since then all the protagonists, as well as a few more secondary players like Holbrook, have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. And while most of them have richly deserved their respective come-uppances, it's interesting that what has sometimes tipped the scales against them is a minor misdemeanour—minor, that is, by conventional standards but not, one supposes, by Mr Raven's. (p. 23)
[Beneath] their baroque trappings his books are as austere and symmetrical as a Doric temple, with every character oiling the wheels of a fine-meshed plot….
[The] sequence as a whole [has] been an ambitious project because the author has tried to do three things at once: catch the flavour of that Upper and Upper-Middle Class world about which he is both contemptuous and affectionate; introduce and develop the nine or so loosely-connected characters who dominate the sequence; and at the same time present ten independent stories in such a way that each would entertain a reader new to the sequence. This is an awfully tall order, especially when you consider that there is no Lewis Eliot...
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