G(erald) B(asil) Edwards

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Geoffrey Grigson

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The literal subject [of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page] is the passage through life and time—our modern degenerate time—and among neighbors, of [a] rather simple, slightly educated quarryman's son, this Ebenezer, this mouth of patois and old ways. But then what is the subject, when it does not work? Or when it works, or proceeds rather, only through an inadequacy of dull words? Anecdote follows anecdote. Parents, friends, relations, neighbor occur, and occur again, turned round about in new circumstances. Ebenezer is learning…. Ebenezer is going to school, Ebenezer goes fishing, Ebenezer is going to the fair, Ebenezer is going after girls (and men eventually), Ebenezer is going round on his bike. Empty clothes instead of people surround Ebenezer who is an emptiness, or a ragbag of the not very consequential.

Subject not being substance, what is encountered, I would judge, is no more than an emptiness all round, which soon becomes the rule of this book. There is war. Ebenezer recalls, Ebenezer quotes….

Particularity of place occurs … and Ebenezer acquaints us—in how dull a way—with ormers, garfish, spider crabs, lady crabs, congers; and with interminable particularity of language—how flatly, how much with a turning on and off of a speech faucet, in patois, and in tricks—no doubt Sarnian tricks—of syntax and grammar and the like….

Where the writing should convey its meaning, its message ought in fact to be the substance; and here for substance a curious fumble, a curious uncertainty and intermittency are substituted. Under the patter and the patois, or alongside them, in continuation, the run becomes that of the most uncompelling, the most impersonal or weakly personal ordinariness, as in any other bad novel of less pretension or in any trite extent of journalism. All the time, in the four hundred or so pages, it is this amateurism which shows up, or shows through, clearly. (p. 43)

[According to John Fowles (see excerpt above)] The Book of Ebenezer Le Page "must surely become a classic" of his island, making up for Guernsey's literary neglect since Victor Hugo's exile there in Hauteville House…. I [do not] believe that this tiresome novel is "undoubtedly a classic of its kind" as well as a classic of Guernsey.

But then what is "its kind"? John Fowles declares, accurately, that "its voice and method are so unusual that it belongs nowhere on our conventional literary maps." Also, unlike the jacketeer, I don't find this novel "reminiscent in its fullness, its nobility of character, its grand simplicity, of the pastoral sagas of Thomas Hardy, and of his literary descendant, John Fowles himself." That is fudge. And I read further that in one newspaper the writer of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page has been compared to Proust [see excerpt above by Guy Davenport]; which is also fudge again, and stickier fudge. I wait now to see who after all will now be fooled, in the publishing community, and then in the reviewing community, of the country of G. B. Edwards. (pp. 43-4)

Geoffrey Grigson, "In the Crab Pots," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1981 Nyrev, Inc.), Vol. XXVIII, No. 17, November 5, 1981, pp. 43-4.

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