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Raphael, Frederic 1931–
Raphael is an American novelist, short story writer, critic, and dramatist for stage, screen, radio, and television. He has experimented with a variety of techniques in his novels to examine individuals within the English upper and middle classes. Darling, an original screenplay, won awards in England and America. Raphael resides in England. (See also CLC, Vol. 2, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
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[The opening scene of Orchestra & Beginners is a] country home in Sussex, where a typical upper-class British weekend house party is in progress….
It is soon clear … that this scene, typical of Frederic Raphael's subtle method throughout, is set primarily for contrast and introduction. The autumn peacefulness of the Sussex weekend is deceptive; though it is scarcely alluded to, World War II has just begun….
The Strausses, Leonard and Linda, alone seem aware that their lives are about to change fundamentally. But then, though they are in this old school group, they are not really of it. Leonard is a Jew, Linda an American. Orchestra & Beginners is the story of their marriage and its reshaping under the tensions of—among other things—the war. As the plot unfolds, the cracks in the apparently secure foundations of this "perfect" marriage are gradually revealed. (p. 43)
Orchestra & Beginners is a fascinating book with, on the one hand, the apparent expansiveness and leisured pace of the nineteenth-century novel but, on the other, a sophistication and glitter that are totally twentieth century. Essentially simple, the story is absorbing because of the intricacy of its construction; one is never quite sure in which direction it will move next.
Raphael has an incredibly intimate feel for place and atmosphere, which he creates with something of the delicate skill of the man who builds castles out of matchsticks, by carefully accumulating seemingly inconsequential details. Now and then, however, the technique is carried to excess, and he produces only one of those tiresome catalogues of trivia that clutter the later O'Hara novels. The dialogue exhibits the same contradictions: most of it is as charming and adroit as that in Darling, the excellent movie for which Raphael did the screenplay; but part of it is so slick and polished, notably in some of the emotional tussles between Leonard and Linda, as to seem contrived and stagey. The prose, again generally superb, can launch at intervals into purple passages…. (pp. 43-4)
The most telling flaw in the book, however, lies in the characterization of Leonard. Linda at one point observes that he has "the very look … of an official." It is Leonard's remoteness (there is the deadness of officialdom about him), not only from Linda but from the reader as well, that undermines the interest in the battle between Linda and her husband.
It is perhaps a tribute to the over-all strength of the plot and its construction that this book, despite faults and excesses, emerges as an intensely moving, charming, intelligent novel…. (p. 44)
Eric Moon, "Fierce Duel for Fulfillment," in Saturday Review (© 1968 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), Vol. LI, No. 12, March 23, 1968, pp. 43-4.
The world [of April, June and November ] in which Frederic Raphael's characters manoeuvre is populated by people who share dubious, though superficially attractive talents. They are all gifted, all civilized, all liberal, and all, without exception, excessively witty. Much of the narrative consists of dialogue which fairly dazzles with surface glitter: more neat epigrams to the paragraph than the script of a late-night chat show, and more deeply-felt opinions modestly hidden by sharp witticism than might fall...
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from the lips of a graduate satirist running for political office.
The superficiality, of course, is not there to be despised; rather, it is the means by which the characters reveal their vulnerability, which ought, in turn, to elicit our sympathy while indicating that real depth is to be found beneath the banter. Before that can happen, though, it's essential that the reader should at least begin to believe in the people for whom he is supposed to feel—a difficult task, since the sheer speed and accuracy of their conversation is likely to make him conscious at once of the hours of careful composition taken to construct it. The assiduous, brilliant script each character seems to possess divorces him, as a standup comedian is divorced, from a world of real events and objects, so that when some mundane event is introduced it appears as misplaced as a workhouse in a fairy tale.
The impression is that characters scarcely ever stop talking unless it is to be speedily creative or trenchantly introspective; or to play football….
"All Glitter," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1972; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3692, December 8, 1972, p. 1477.
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You might say, although it is heresy to do so, that character becomes a function of style in [Richard's Things]. For it is the style which dominates the book, and it is one of formality, distance and opaqueness. It has a singleness of tone which gathers all of the façades of reality into one space, and an emotion becomes just as much an object as a fruit-and-nut bar. I am becoming ponderous now, and I don't want to suggest that Richard's Things is a 'new novel' or anything approaching one. We will leave that to inferior novelists. What Mr Raphael has done is to make trivial events as touching and as credible as apparently 'significant' ones, and he has done so within an elliptic and ironical prose. He is not, however, just any old humourist and deep down, where it doesn't really matter, I found traces of good old-fashioned novelist's morality: "Nature is impersonal. Read it for meanings and it's absurd, callous, cruel, vindictive." Strong words, and it is fortunate that Mr. Raphael does not over-employ them. (p. 610)
Peter Ackroyd, "Defying the Conventions," in The Spectator (© 1973 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 231, No. 7585, November 10, 1973, pp. 610-11.∗
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Frederic Raphael, a writer who shifts psychological scenes with magical dexterity, depicts a broken triangle [in "Richard's Things"] that develops an unexpected kink when Richard's "things" fall in love with one another…. This is the kind of thing that could happen in a Colette novel, but Mr. Raphael is very much his own man. His style is wonderfully controlled; it abounds in original visions as it reveals more and more about … two women and their common bonds. It is full of unexpected horizons and interesting people—even to a burglar who makes a fleeting appearance. Not many novelists have so complete a mastery of their art.
Martin Levin, "Fiction and Poetry: 'Richard's Things'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 26, 1975, p. 55.
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It would be a great deal easier to like Frederic Raphael as a writer if his technical skill were less, or—since he is as scandalously accomplished as he is—if he felt less insecure about his readers' recognition of it. To puzzle over seven (or 17) types of ambiguity is pleasure of a high order; but to have them all pointed out, if not actually explained, with much nudging of bold type and winking of italics and puns significantly laid along the knows, is affronting: especially when, as in California Time, you find you cannot do without these artful aids.
'California time' is, its inventor says, 'a sequence of presents'—which in his book are given and received as well as lived through by people with [symbolically loaded] names…. California Time, on the other hand, is a sequence of paragraphs alternately printed in bold and light type, of which the bold seem to relate what happened in these ever-presents while the light comment upon the bold (no doubt itself a comment on the relationship of reality and writing), and simultaneously upon the structure of the book.
This kind of conjuring trick can be wearisome; but it cannot vitiate the conviction, which grows with reading, that what you have in your hands is a very remarkable book indeed. What its meaning is I should be hard put to it to say…. The themes of death and duality surface …, but the book does not seem to be 'about' them more than anything else.
Perhaps it is to do with American and European cultures in collision, with the death of the past and the new permanence of temporariness as a yardstick of values. And perhaps—perish the suspicion—it is merely about nothing more than Mr Raphael's skills. No doubt, it will take me some time to find out, since he is too clever for me on first reading, if not too clever by half; and I shall give the time willingly, not only because his book is strange and unsettling and demands close attention, but also because it is a striking compendium of wit, acute and bizarre imagery, and consummate style.
Neil Hepburn, "England in Hollywood," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1975; reprinted by permission of Neil Hepburn), Vol. 94, No. 2431, November 6, 1975, p. 622.
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"The ultimate Hollywood novel!" says Blurb, and for once he may be near the mark…. [In] Frederic Raphael's "California Time": Victor England, well-known director and ladies' man, returns to Hollywood to make a film…. [At times Raphael stops the action to drop numerous] helpful hints on how best to read a book called "California Time." (p. 33)
There are some remarkably funny scenes and exchanges in here [in addition to nearly a pun a page.]… [One] may imagine a benign purpose to the author's word-play, a determination, perhaps, that we be made constantly aware that we are reading, so as not to be hoodwinked by his skills into thinking we are already watching the movie of the book, or leafing through the book of the movie, or, worst of all, stuck up to our eyeballs in life.
In sum, there are some very happy moments in what Reviewer might call "this flawed, ambitious work," and the author of the screenplay for "Darling" can be indulged an ambitious flaw or two. (pp. 33-4)
Ivan Gold, "Fiction. 'California Time'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 11, 1976, pp. 33-4.
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Ten pages of The Glittering Prizes is highly entertaining; fifty pages begins to cloy with its unremitting sparkle; and after three hundred pages I was itching all over from the bite of witty gnats. Everyone in the book is witty, even the bit-parts; and the great bulk of the novel is dialogue, with the barest furnishing of characterisation and environment. It is, in fact, a conversion job from a television screenplay; and makes one wonder why this convention of universal verbal brilliance is so much more acceptable on the screen (or stage) than in a novel. Part of the answer is that on the screen there is only one crack of the whip: if you miss something the first time round then it's gone for good. Wit cements a statement in our memory, much like rhyme in the oral epic…. [Here] too much wit is counterproductive, clogging rather than cementing.
Mr Raphael's goal is by no means pure entertainment. He is trying to describe and to criticise the Oxbridge process (still desultorily operating) by which intelligent young men and women adopt a convention of verbal agility, and viciousness, as a defence against a demanding environment—an armour inside which they may be stuck for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, the analysis is embedded within the very convention it tries to analyse: a philosophical error which the linguistic analysts who loom over Mr Raphael's 'fifties Cambridge would be quick to attack. What it amounts to is kicking oneself for wearing steel-tipped shoes—painful and unedifying. The sheer small-time nastiness of most of the characters doesn't help, either. The accuracy with which Mr Raphael captures petty-intellectual cannibalism is not in doubt; but he captures only its surface, giving only a glossy celluloid illusion of its substance. First prize for glitter, then; but no prize for anything else. (p. 31)
Nick Totton, "Craftsmen," in The Spectator (© 1976 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 237, No. 7744, November 27, 1976, pp. 30-1.∗
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As for Frederic Raphael's 'novel' version of his successful television series, The Glittering Prizes, it is not a novel but a script, ie, dialogue, cemented together with a few descriptive lines here and there. I am deeply grateful to Mr Raphael for this television series…. But isn't to present this book as a novel actually an offence under the Trades Description Act?… As a mirror held up to a society that glitters on the surface but has nothing underneath, these scripts are highly effective, but that was not, I believe, the idea. (p. 23)
James Brockway, "Going Down Bravely" (© copyright James Brockway 1977; reprinted with permission), in Books and Bookmen, Vol. 22, No. 5, February, 1977, pp. 22-3.∗
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Adam Morris [protagonist of The Glittering Prizes] wants nothing more than to be smart and successful and win the glittering prizes of life. But he also wants to preserve his feisty, joking Jewish resilience, his artistic conscience, his happy marriage, his own identity, his distance. "If there's one boat I never want to be in," he says, "it's the same boat as everyone else." He finds himself thrown together with people at Cambridge University in the 1950's who want pretty much the same things—marriage, money, fame, comfortable accommodations to an imperfect society, nothing revolutionary. Over the next twenty years experience teaches them, some more harshly than others, the deceptions of their desires. Adam must confront, for example, the exploitative ugliness of his first career idea as a media man. (p. 346)
Raphael has learned something of his art from Forster: the satiric treatment of prejudice in Passage to India, the Cantabridgian vignettes of The Longest Journey. But Raphael works too much from dialogue alone, and characterization runs thin; it becomes only script and sometimes only soap opera. (p. 347)
Dean Flower, "The Way We Live Now," in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1978 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXXI, No. 2, Summer, 1978, pp. 343-55.∗
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Writers so consistently interested in social manners as Frederic Raphael are usually called 'class conscious'. What's special about Raphael is that he is conscious only of the middle class—in fact, only of the middle class couple. You need read no further than the opening sentences of Raphael's stories [in Sleeps Six and Other Stories] to discover that his abiding preoccupation is the coming together of the bourgeois he and she….
Raphael has gone over this ground so often now, and with such assurance, that he's begun to look self-parodying. He was always indulgent towards his creations (his satirical jabs about as vicious as syrup), and now the saccharine has crept into his much-acclaimed wit: 'Frost still made mountainous birthday cakes out of molehills in the meadows." There are good moments here in the title story and in two or three of the minimalist narratives where Raphael moves into unfamiliar territory. But at the end one is left feeling as empty as the unnamed subject of his story 'Benchmark': it all looks very accomplished, but a severe judgment would probably find that there's nothing much there.
Blake Morrison, "Making Tracks," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 98, No. 2523, July 27, 1979, p. 137.∗
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Adulteries in John Cheever's world are conducted, usually, with politeness and grace; in the stories of Frederic Raphael they are defined by a need in the participants altogether more brittle and grasping. The terms of the erotic arrangement are precise and precarious; not delicacy of spirit but deviousness may be responsible for this. Several of the stories [in Sleeps Six and Other Stories] are nothing but fragments, compressed to the point of insubstantiality. An ability to observe closely, with humour, hasn't saved the author from many lapses into smartness ('pregnant silences were followed by infantile noises'), and aphoristic gloss. As vignettes of modern life in a high-income zone these stories are occasionally impressive (the title story, for instance, begins to develop a kind of inner coherence), but one is left with a feeling of talents underused.
Patricia Craig, "Frederic Raphael's 'Sleeps Six and Other Stories'" (© copyright Patricia Craig, 1979; reprinted with permission), in Books and Bookmen, Vol. 24, No. 11, August, 1979, p. 63.
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[In Sleeps Six] Frederic Raphael writes about the infidelities and other infelicities in middle-class marriages; typical titles are 'Acute Triangle', 'Similar Triangles', 'Upstairs, Downstairs' and 'Bridal Suite'. His characters are usually rich, randy, intelligent, unscrupulous and unhappy—the literary grandchildren of Scott Fitzgerald's beautiful and damned generation. Raphael would be a better writer if he did not try so hard to make every sentence wittier than the last. Too often the soufflé fails to rise and instead of an airy wit we have a soggy weight…. However, there is also much to admire in Sleeps Six, in particular Raphael's hip humour in his story of the wisecracking New York nympho and her maddeningly sedate psychiatrist. (p. 255)
John Mellors, "Psychic and Mental," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1979; reprinted by permission of John Mellors), Vol. 102, No. 2625, August 23, 1979, pp. 254-55.∗