David Pownall Nick Totten - Essay

Nick Totten

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In My Organic Uncle, David Pownall successfully carries off a remarkable eclecticism of place, class, theme and tone. The stories move from Zambia to Liverpool to the Mediterranean, from farce to realist fragment to macabre tragedy. The juxtapositions genuinely manage to convey, in a way that is neither cliché nor concealed cultural imperialism, the collective, unitive nature of human experience. There is no self-conscious theme; but there is a sense in which each story's emotion is a tributary to a single confluence, a pressure which emerges clearly in the last story, 'The Walls of Shimpundu'. The black miner, Golden, at the deathbed of the white foreman nicknamed Shimpundu, demands to understand his racism, the 'walled city' of whiteness inside his head. He gets no answer, but death: 'Shimpundu's eyes held nothing but a wide clear plain as broad as Africa itself, and the walls of Shimpundu lay submerged beneath the flood of red, forgiving waters'.

David Pownall demonstrates an unassuming competence which goes beyond itself. Only a few of these stories—'The Walls of Shimpundu', 'The Going-away Clothes', 'Buffs'—are individually very impressive; some of the others are pretty damp squibs. But there is a cumulative power: the power of a warm intelligence that brings together scraps of disparate experience into a surprisingly coherent fabric. (p. 22)

Nick Totten, in The Spectator (© 1976 by The Spectator; reprinted by permisssion of The Spectator), October 2, 1976.