David Pownall Peter Ackroyd - Essay

Peter Ackroyd

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Raining Tree War is a very funny first novel. It concerns a group of Ogden Nash savages who flash their pearly teeth, limbo, and worship Maud, Wife Of Our God, Woman Of Your Friend and Your Old Mother Herself….

[Pownall] is not satirising the black races themselves, but rather the Western Idea of them. It is only in musicals, after all, that natives wear palm fronds, and sentences like "I am a sensitive person and can feel that I will die before many days have passed," have come straight from the set of a Tarzan movie. (p. 22)

The improbable events of pastoral comedy have been transported to a more garish natural spot, where gigantism invades all things and improbable events become ever noiser and more unpredictable. But, like all comedy, it has a happy ending as nurture grudgingly gives way to nature in the irrefutable shape of Maud. Africa is the spot, of course, from which people are supposed to come and Pownall throws in a Tree of Life to keep everyone smiling. There is a touch of self-consciousness about this paradisaical manoeuvre, but I can forgive most things for a little black comedy. (p. 23)

Peter Ackroyd, in The Spectator (© 1974 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), July 6, 1974.