Jan De Hartog The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Spiral Road] is a vast, luxuriant sprawling examination of decay: the softening up of a young doctor's integrity, ambition and self-respect by loneliness, disillusion and sexual fantasy…. [Mr. de Hartog] has apparently determined to write an immense novel, and by standards of length alone he has succeeded.

The characters are innumerable and none of them is quite sane or real. The writing has zest but little shape or style. Mr. de Hartog, who once wrote a beautifully shaped short novel called Stella, has thrown caution to the winds, let his fertile imagination run riot and allowed himself a kind of sailor's pipe-dream of landsmen's depravity. The result is nothing if not entertaining…. [The] romanticist's myopic view of the tropical doctor's life has been corrected by some eye-opening details, and decadence and degeneration are given as many imaginative twists as fiction, rather than reality, can contrive. For, in spite of its realistic physical details, its bitter images of a disintegrating leprosy specialist, who is the real heart of the book, The Spiral Road never convinces one that it is about real people. It is a fantasy, overgrown and uncontrolled, spacious but not deep, vigorously imagined but hardly felt. It would be a pity if Mr. de Hartog were to lose his ideas of scale and perspective in a longing for sheer size. Vitality and virility of his kind are rare enough for one not to wish to see them wastefully diffused.

"Fantasy and Fable," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1957; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 2877, April 19, 1957, p. 237.