Joy Adamson Harold Hayes - Essay

Harold Hayes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

An altogether admirable person, [Joy Adamson] has lived a rambunctious, large-scale, productive life, her own best example of one of the very few introspections to be found in ["The Searching Spirit"]: "… only one thing is certain—people get out of life exactly what they put into it."

Having put more into it than most, Mrs. Adamson has left a lot of her life out of her book…. [The] best that can be said of Mrs. Adamson's narrative is that she reduces things to their essence. Too little is made of too much. Almost at random throughout the Kenya section, within two or three pages, she may be found dashing up one mountainside and down the next, collecting exotic species and surviving a variety of disasters. Her most personal impressions seldom transcend the level of postcard sensibility, and her experiences as a trained observer of this matchless but swiftly degrading environment are listed but rarely described.

On the other hand, as against those things she leaves out, some she does put in (touring Europe with George, visiting zoo-keepers in Asia) betray a lack of a sense of proportion about which aspects of her life have true significance. The structure of the book is mechanically chronological, in the light of which one supposes her principal source to have been her diary and her greatest artifice the construction of connecting sentences. A self-taught paleontologist, ethnologist, a committed conservationist, an artist and a courageous adventurer—obviously a woman of mind as well as spirit—she hasn't thought about what has happened to her. Nor, apparently, has she been obliged to by her publisher, with the unhappy result that an exceptional life has been narrowed to an unexceptional book. (pp. 12, 26)

Harold Hayes, "Grown Free," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 22, 1979, pp. 12, 26.