G(erald) B(asil) Edwards David Kubal - Essay

David Kubal

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Despite the bleakness of his theme—or perhaps because of it—G. B. Edwards ends his extraordinary novel [The Book of Ebenezer Le Page] so happily that the reader, long accustomed to conclusions of bereavement, paucity, and unforgiving despair, might find himself resisting a gift providing so much pleasure. That one can be suspicious of such generosity may indicate just how far the novel has departed from its origins as the genre of forgiveness and reconciliation. And it may even explain why Mr. Edwards could not find a publisher before his death in 1976 for this his only novel. Like John Kennedy Toole's The Confederacy of Dunces, which was also published posthumously after a number of rejections with an introduction by an eminent writer—in his case, Walker Percy—The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is presented by John Fowles, a novelist who has expressed his disenchantment with the easy pessimism of contemporary fiction.

Ebenezer Le Page's story is, nonetheless, a melancholy one, telling of the gradual and inevitable absorption of the Isle of Guernsey into the monolithic culture of the twentieth century. (p. 456)

Within the novel, the emotion is fully earned, fought for and gained during a life of anger, deprivation, and austere loneliness. Most painful for Ebenezer is the loss of the male, the severing of that fundamental bond, beginning with the death of his father in the Boer War and continuing with the slaughter of his friends during the two World Wars. But the female and marriage are also his enemies, jealous as they are, in Ebenezer's view, of the independent male self. If these archaic ideas are at odds with contemporary notions of a mature selfhood, they remind us of the great wounds inflicted upon men by the continuous wars of our time and the costs exacted by the therapeutic society. Besides, they are significantly qualified, if not negated, by the love and erotic joy of Ebenezer's legatees. The book remains, then, an anachronism in which the reader can discover all the old rewards of the novel: the voice of an identifiable narrator; affectionate descriptions of nature; the drama of a society told through its manners and domestic rituals; and the celebration of the powers of love and will. (p. 457)

David Kubal, "Fiction Chronicle," in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1981 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXXIV, No. 3, Autumn, 1981, pp. 456-66.∗