Dirk Bogarde SeáN Wyse Jackson - Essay

SeáN Wyse Jackson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


With [A Gentle Occupation], Dirk Bogarde accepts the challenge issued by more than one admirer of his excellent autobiographies … and acquits himself with much honor. A Gentle Occupation is set on an imaginary island between Borneo and Java…. The Dutch and Japanese occupations of the island have left a legacy of old betrayals, cruelty and lost love; these form the mainspring of the book….

Here, death is always present—as memory, threat and reality—and the book does not stint on blood and pain. Sometimes, however, these deaths seem too useful to the author, as if they were necessary for the demands of the plot, rather than contingent on it. A sense of waste there certainly is, but the vicious randomness of the stray bullet or the wandering bacillus is missing. Killing off characters does clear up loose ends, and a complex plot produces these as readily as a pregnant rabbit babies, but who approves of myxomatosis?

As in the autobiographies, Dirk Bogarde shines in his dialogue and characterisation…. [His characters] are wonderful, funny, live people and, as in life, none is either altogether good or bad. They more than redeem this overplotted but nonetheless considerable novel.

Seán Wyse Jackson, "Warring Fictions," in New Statesman (© 1980 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 99, No. 2557, March 21, 1980, p. 444.∗