Geoffrey Household

by Edward West

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Household, Geoffrey 1900–

Household is a British novelist, short story writer, and author of children's books. Best known for his suspense novels, he pays close attention to plot development, and somewhat less to character portrayal. His work deals with themes of danger, human endurance, and personal honor. Household considers Daniel Defoe, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Joseph Conrad to be his principal influences. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)

Regina Barnes

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The picaresque novel has a long tradition in English literature from Daniel Defoe to John Buchan, and on to its present active exponent, Geoffrey Household. He has written almost a dozen such books of suspense or adventure, among which Rogue Male (1939) achieved the greatest distinction.

As in many of his other novels of action, The Lives and Times of Bernardo Brown is thick with incident, thin on characterization….

Household re-creates his familiar world in this novel. One is aware of his intimate knowledge of geography: the British west countryside, the Mediterranean, Hungary and Roumania. His reiterated themes of courage, loyalty, personal honor and endurance ring with customary geniality. As in other novels … the beset protagonist measures his skills against unknown adversaries and accusations with sometimes unexpected, but always unfailing, expertise. Nor does he falter as an upholder of traditional virtues even though his travails may temporarily involve him in cuckoldry or pimping. One can always, figuratively, detect the scent of obliging hawthorn, briar pipe and good tweeds.

Unfortunately however, The Lives and Times of Bernardo Brown creaks. The Arabian Nights have entered the shadows; one hopes that Mr. Household will employ his genial and deft style in a new novel of greater staying power. (p. 28)

Regina Barnes, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1974 by The New Republic, Inc.), March 16, 1974.

Peter S. Prescott

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Among writers of elegant suspense stories perhaps none has been as erratic in the quality of his performances as Geoffrey Household. A reader might, with some confidence, slap grades on them—an A for this, but no more than C-minus for that—though the disparities are difficult to detect in early chapters. In one specialized subspecies of thriller, however, Household remains pre-eminent: the manhunt novel. No one has written a better chase story than "Rogue Male," though many have imitated it, including Household himself in "Watcher in the Shadows"—certainly the next best of its kind—and in other stories.

Manhunt novels are exceedingly difficult to write well. In addition to the usual suspense paraphernalia of plot, pace and minimal stabs at characterization, a good chase story provides a contrast between the terror of what is happening and the cozy familiarity of the landscape within which it happens. Whether the setting is urban or rural makes no difference, but it must be precisely realized through lovingly informed detail—and I think that only a writer who is more than ordinarily fond of, and knowledgeable about, his city or his part of the countryside can bring it off…. Household, in ["Red Anger"] uses this effect to heighten suspense…. (p. 81)

[His] new device—a double quarry pursued by two teams of villains—works pretty well (give the book a B-plus), though this kind of story is more effective when a classic simplicity of plot and motive prevails. I wish Household had kept us guessing about the good faith of Alwyn and his family; were he an ironist like Len Deighton he might have twisted his tale at the end to show that Alwyn was indeed a villain, Adrian a dupe, and the foreign agents stout good fellows.

But Household has never been an ironist; he is instead a romantic, a deeply conservative writer for whom it is...

(This entire section contains 524 words.)

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an article of faith that an honorable man in danger in his own land will prevail. (p. 84)

Peter S. Prescott, "Son of 'Rogue Male'," in Newsweek (copyright 1975 by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), September 22, 1975, pp. 81, 84.

Julian Despard, alias Gil, alias Herbert Johnson, once a university lecturer, now, ostensibly, a publisher's representative, heads a cell of Magma [in Hostage], a secret international organization dedicated to the overthrow of society and the establishment of the New Revolution. By accident he comes across various items of information which convince him that the upper echelons of Magma have planted a nuclear device somewhere in London and plan to explode it…. The plot is not unlike that of Geoffrey Household's fine earlier novel, Rogue Male, but Despard is a cooler, more self-possessed character than the unnamed hero of that book. In his diary he analyses his thoughts and emotions with clinical, even inhuman objectivity; nevertheless, it is one of the author's triumphs to have made him a completely credible, even sympathetic figure. Despard's style sets the tone for the whole book: terse, with not a redundant word or episode, highly intelligent, and absolutely compelling. (p. 911)

The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), July 29, 1977.