John Hampson (essay date 1943)
SOURCE: “Fiction,” in The Spectator, Vol. 170, No. 5983, February 26, 1943, pp. 204, 206.
[In the following essay, Hampson reviews The Last Inspection, praising the volume and calling the stories “both touching and beautiful.”]
Readers who enjoy out-of-the-ordinary books should … make a point of reading Alun Lewis's first collection of short stories, The Last Inspection. Lewis is a poet, and his themes are lit by tenderness and sensibility. In a brief foreword he explains that eighteen of his twenty-three stories “are concerned with the Army in England during the two years' attente since the disaster of June, 1940.” He, too, presents the problems and conflicts of individuals caught up in the struggle of nations. He is a serious writer, using courage, sympathy and humour for his critical interpretation of life in the Army, with its sudden isolation of the individual from his familiar community. The full implications of this commonplace, yet most difficult problem, are sensitively illumined and realised. His characters, ranging from the small child and the simple recruit to the conscious and intellectual adult, are recognisable human beings. Lewis, like Leslie Halward, can explore the province of the inarticulate, and bring back riches, but his range is not confined to the proletariat. “Private Jones,” “Lance-Jack,” “Interruption,” “Acting Captain,” and “They Came,” contain a wealth of experience transformed by imagination into exciting prose. The last-named story reveals the mind of a soldier whose wife was killed in an air-raid on the first night of his leave, as he returns to his unit. In its economy of effect it is both touching and beautiful. This collection carries a recommendation from the Book Society.