(Edward Montague) Compton Mackenzie

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George Dangerfield

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409

I cannot help thinking that "Again to the North" is a somewhat unnecessary book. It is an example of what Coleridge called the cacoethes notandi. It is a series of agreeable footnotes, a tieing up of loose ends which might better be left untied….

"Again to the North" is set, as to time, in the middle of the 1930s, and, as to place, all over the place. John Ogilvie and his daughter wander up and down between England, France, Italy, and Greece. John talks all the time. He talks about the iniquities of Hitler and Mussolini, and the sinister ambivalence of Stanley Baldwin in the matter of the air estimates, the abdication of Edward VIII. He talks about the biography of Beethoven and the inadequacy of modern poets. Rarely has the sight of quotation marks filled me with such anguish. It is not that the talk is poor; it is the sort of talk which is quite permissible among friends after a good dinner. But it needs a certain seasoning if it is to be committed to print. A plot would have helped, and there is almost no plot in this novel. Moreover, Mr. MacKenzie has neglected to furnish his leading character with a sense of humor; the other people in the book are similarly lacking; and the conversations occasionally become so inhuman that they resemble nothing so much as a discourse between the various files in a newspaper morgue.

I believe that the reason for all this is that Mr. MacKenzie is not happy in the atmosphere which prevails in this book—the atmosphere of farewell. Almost all the people in it are somewhat vocally growing old; and eheu fugaces is a theme upon which few, if any, changes can be rung, least of all by a novelist such as Mr. MacKenzie. For Mr. MacKenzie is preëminently a novelist of youth and the supernatural. In his "saga" he has served this immortal pair faithfully and well, pursuing them, with great courage and sufficient fire, through an era which has not been particularly kind to either. It is because I have a great respect for him that I rather wish he had not written this book. After all, there is some difference between resting on one's laurels and sitting on them.

George Dangerfield, "Winds That Blew Themselves Out," in The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright © 1946 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 29, No. 11, March 16, 1946, p. 20.

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