George MacBeth George Macbeth (Vol. 9) - Essay

George Macbeth (Vol. 9)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

MacBeth, George 1932–

A Scottish poet and novelist, MacBeth is noted for his innovative use of word associations and juxtapositions. His verse is both ritualistic and personal, his fiction experimental and erotic. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)

George MacBeth's cluster of nasty, surreal images go with a sardonic lilt these days. I don't care for the places in [In the Hours Waiting for the Blood to Come] where they are marshalled with the old intensity (as in the title-poem), but it would be wrong to miss the skill with which, in something like 'Elegy for the Gas Dowsers', MacBeth brings off a sustained parable of decay, a genuine eco-nightmare for our time. Even so, the best poems are the most relaxed. 'The Poet's Life' is by far the best of those, a neat session of self-revelation and self-mockery which makes one of the most entertaining poems he has given us for some time. (p. 60)

Alan Brownjohn, in New Statesman (© 1975 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), July 11, 1975.

[A] specialist in subhuman detail with nightmare overtones is George MacBeth, but his piquantly titled In the Hours Waiting for the Blood to Come may come as a disappointment to some of his old fans. The blood, foetuses and shocking fables are still there but the tone is more coolly sardonic than usual and the book ends with an amiable sequence called 'A Poet's Life' in which he coasts drily along for almost 20 pages without reaching once for an interesting bestiality. Whether MacBeth is mellowing it's probably too early to say but when he leaves off his snakeskin boiler-suit and appears in (more or less) propria persona as a member of human society the results are often satirically enjoyable. Presumably

          urged by the social, he strays to the
            savage. He dreams

is the key so far as MacBeth's own poet's life is concerned, but it looks as though he may at last be getting tired of carrying his horrors around with him like a charismatic shock-wave. (p. 62)

Colin Falck, in The New Review (© The New Review Ltd., 11 Greek Street, London W1V 5LE), August, 1975.

"The Samurai" bears almost exactly the same relationship to a readable espionage tale that it does to serious fiction. Which is to say, none at all….

[Evidently] the editorial handicappers promoting "The Samurai" have noticed that writers of undeniable seriousness and quality have been appearing on the best-seller list almost as regularly as the sensationalists. So they are trying to have it both ways by marketing this half-baked, witless muck as "an entertainment" by a serious and well-known poet. It is difficult to imagine any other reason why a writer of talent and sensibility would put his real name on the cover. So, as stuffy as it is to take the literary high-road these days, I earnestly hope that MacBeth feels perfectly wretched about it for months…. (p. 10)

Gene Lyons, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 10, 1975.

Poet Macbeth's first novel [The Samurai] is an episodic allegory that is part sensually violent thriller and part metaphysical pornography. What there is of a plot centers on a band of modern ronin trying to reinstitute the ancient Japanese ethos of perverse purity through death and their destruction by a group of British agents whose own purification comes through perverse sex, acts which are not merely symbolically equivalent but, ultimately, identical. The story is basically unconvincing, and is bogged down by excessive eroticism, but Macbeth is so adept at portraying the subtle exoticness of it all that one cannot help but become involved and engrossed. (p. cxlii)

Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1975, by the Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 51, No. 4 (Autumn, 1975).

Sinning and salvation … have their place in The Survivor, in which a second-world-war Japanese pilot crash-lands on a Pacific island, survives and promptly proceeds to atone for his incestuous relationship with his daughter by grinding through an undiluted stream of nightmare 'illusions'…. The careful inwardness of the description is overlaid with somewhat obscure asides about tsukas and kashiras, and with an ill-defined air of significance. A doubtfully efficient means of expiation. (p. 60)

Susannah Clapp, in New Statesman (© 1977 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), July 8, 1977.

George MacBeth, as both impresario and practitioner of poetry, has shown over the years an occasional tendency to become infatuated with the sensational, eccentric and fashionably barmy, though this, too eager readiness to explore the new-fangled has usually been counterbalanced by a shrewd awareness of what is imperishable in traditional English poetics…. I was not surprised that [The Survivor, Macbeth's novel,] should be formally "experimental", intensely cinematic, with its use of flashback, cross-cutting, dissolves and zooming shots, nor that it should eschew realism for something more oblique, ambiguous, surreal, that it should be much concerned with physical violence and unorthodox sexuality, but I was not quite prepared for its almost crazy resolve to spare the reader nothing in the way of human perversion….

[The] direct descriptions of sexual activity … are not very different from the ill-printed stuff that was popular among the troops in the Middle East during the Second World War—"Her hands slid forwards and up the stiff pole of his organ …" is a fair example of either, though in fact it comes from The Survivor—and too much of the novel consists of just this kind of writing.

Vernon Scannell, "Japanese Wha Hae," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), July 15, 1977, p. 849.