Ilya Ehrenburg Kingsley Amis - Essay

Kingsley Amis

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

People with some experience of the Soviet novel, together with those who know Mr. Ehrenburg primarily for his eloquent war despatches in 1941–45, may be surprised at the amiability and dryness of The Thaw: perhaps it was those qualities which affronted some members of the Union of Soviet Writers, rather than its implied criticisms of housing policy, official art and competitive careerism, or its tentative thesis that personal relations provide the warmth which may humanise a society icebound with government decrees. A prime interest of the book to British readers will inevitably be its account of that society. Mr. Ehrenburg is informative and fascinating on prevailing Soviet attitudes to the organisation of industry, to authority, to the October Revolution (still an obsession, apparently), to work in general, but these attitudes are too remote from our own to make the human behaviour which embodies them more than intermittently plausible to us. The same applies, in some measure, to his demonstration of how writers and painters work and are regarded, although artistic chicanery and opportunism seem to show a curious knack of transcending political frontiers.

The plot of the book is nothing very substantial and is rather encumbered with side-issues, but by taking half a dozen love affairs between people of differing ages and social strata Mr. Ehrenburg has got together enough material for his muffled-up satire on the conception of love as something un-, and even anti-, Bolshevik, and can give some hint of the various other distractions—worries about the quota, the dreaded summons to Moscow, the interminable committees—which help to keep his lovers apart. The chief literary value here, however, lies in several amusing and firmly-drawn character-sketches….

Kingsley Amis, "New Novels: 'The Thaw'," in The Spectator (© 1955 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 194, No. 6611, March 11, 1955, p. 299.