(John) Rayner Heppenstall Derek Verschoyle - Essay

Derek Verschoyle

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Blaze of Noon is a remarkable and original book. It is the story of a phase in the life of a blind man which, though it is an astonishing tour de force, possesses a depth and certainty of the kind which one does not associate with books whose distinction lies in their brilliance. It is a book of which, whether one likes it or not, time will not change one's opinion, for it is not tied to the tastes of a decade; unlike the average English novel of today, written and read within defined social boundaries, it might as effectively have been written in another language and given an alien setting, it will not date, and a reader coming to it in ten years' time will be in just as good a position to appreciate it or criticise it as a reader now…. The originality of the book lies not in the exploitation of unusual material, but in its fresh approach to ordinary experience…. [The] life, both inner and social, of the particular man who is the central subject of the examination is revealed with absolute consistency and vividness. It is a remarkable achievement.

The book's chief faults, which are irritating rather than crucial, are didacticism and—particularly towards the end—a sense of obsession which creeps through the cool and lucid prose…. It is possible to be irritated by the arrogance with which he makes his statements; it is possible to see in what is presented as realism no more than a disguised form of romanticism; it is possible to object on theoretical grounds to any emphasis being placed in this context on physical love, since it is of human activities the one where in practice the visual element generally counts for least. But it simply is not possible to pretend that the book bears the slightest taint of pornography. The world abounds with books containing passages of an equal "frankness," the majority of them too trivial to penetrate beyond the underworld of the circulating library. It is safe to say that to palates formed on such a diet this distinguished and austere book will seem notably lacking in flavour.

Derek Verschoyle, "A Blind Man," in The Spectator (© 1939 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), December 15, 1939, p. 878.