Mary Hocking Neil Hepburn - Essay

Neil Hepburn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The Mind Has Mountains, Mary Hocking's story of] the breakdown of Tom Norris, Assistant Education Officer of a county about to be obliterated under the casual jackboot of a boundaries commission, there are no revenants, no demonic possessions, only the strangeness of human beings reacting to changes in themselves and their surroundings. Fortyish, Tom is distanced rather than estranged from his wife Isobel, worried by his dreams (in which the wolves return to his placid Sussex countryside), unsure of his identity, and near the end of the internal material from which he has successfully been fashioning children's stories for years. (pp. 486-87)

He does surprising, violent, mischievous things and at last, in the climax of a great snowstorm that obliterates all that is familiar to him, manages to break away from the dead shell of his past.

That he does so to retreat to a northern cottage, there to write the near-Shardik to follow his near-Watership Down, is something of an anti-climax; but then plain sanity after such crises of the spirit probably is anti-climactical. Miss Hocking's quiet, precise prose, anatomising this ordinary official's reconciliation with the extraordinariness of life, packs an astonishing emotional punch, and gives much satisfaction. (p. 487)

Neil Hepburn, in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1976; reprinted by permission of Neil Hepburn), October 14, 1976.