Leon Garfield Margery Fisher - Essay

Margery Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

This splendidly unclassifiable novel [The Prisoners of September] opens in a mood of exuberant mock-Gothic comedy, with a hero as gullible, though hardly as winning, as Catherine Morland: it ends in tragedy, in the victory of violence and compromise over idealism and innocence. Events of great moment in the past—the French Revolution in general and the Septembrist massacres in particular—are treated with the opportunism of a Dickens or a Dumas, used to give a positive turn to the lives of two heroes who prove, in the end, to be anti-heroes. (p. 2679)

I have no doubt that The Prisoners of September will be read with an eye to its relevance to the present day, for the very direct look at the self-perpetuating nature of violence, the implied comment on political ignorance and uninstructed idealism, the negation of conventional heroics. I hope it will also be read as an excellent story. The twists of the plot are contrived through the two main characters but also through a great many minor characters delineated strongly and with an almost genial humour. Dialogue and description are managed with a skill and firmness which I do not think Leon Garfield has ever equalled. In particular, his predilection for the off-beat or unexpected verbal image is, in this book, kept in bounds and used only when it really contributes to the story in one way or another…. [Though] I may have seemed to suggest otherwise, this is a pleasing book to read—pleasing because it does so well what it sets out to do, pleasing because of the conclusion on which the story rests, so unexpected and yet so right; pleasing, above all, because in it, Leon Garfield expresses once more, in the indirect way proper to a novel, his respect for humanity. (p. 2680)

Margery Fisher, in her Growing Point, September, 1975.