Bernard Mac Laverty James Campbell - Essay

James Campbell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[MacLaverty's prose is] vivid and virtually faultless. He has the knack of breathing life into a character in the time it takes to say a simple sentence and he never loses his awareness that the first duty of the writer of fiction is to tell a story. Following his recent first novel, Lamb, A Time to Dance is a splendid collection of short stories. The longest of the ten is undoubtedly the best: 'My Dear Palestrina' is about the relationship between a gifted, if reluctant, boy pupil and his flamboyant music teacher. Miss Schwartz. The boy strolls through whatever piece his teacher happens to set him, and as she stands by the piano week after week in only a black silk dressing gown while he tries to keep his mind off something he has never seen, there develops a curious love affair, platonic but in some ways deeply passionate….

MacLaverty's favourite subject is childhood, but it is never the sexless innocence of the worst kind of romanticism. His children are usually misfits of one sort or another and their struggle to function against the more powerful adult authority is what gives impetus to these stories. But MacLaverty's imaginative range is not limited to the pre-pubescent: a cleaning-woman, used to being beaten by her husband, succumbs to the lure of her employer's wallet and lies thinking about the shopping list while he sniffs her bruises; a cultured 83-year-old man at a Day Centre meets a former pupil whom he had once caned for nothing, and keeps his fitness but loses his mind. The author is an Ulsterman resident in Scotland, and some of the stories have a Scots setting; but the mind jumps most smartly to attention when Belfast bombs can be heard exploding in the background. Perhaps the stirrings of a novel are audible in there too. However, I would never presume that his stories were mere throat-clearings: MacLaverty is one of the best practitioners of the genre we have.

James Campbell, "The Twain Meet," in New Statesman, Vol. 103, No. 2667, April 30, 1982, p. 23.∗