Mary Hocking Nick Totton - Essay

Nick Totton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mary Hocking is acutely and probably permanently infected with truthfulness. The Mind Has Mountains explores the senses in which this condition is a matter of suffering, and those in which it is a matter for celebration. 'Some people manage to lose themselves forever out beyond the human stockade'; but others, like the protagonist and the author of this novel, accept the more difficult task of returning, and finding a way of communicating what they have seen. It isn't easy to tell: people are, quite reasonably, unwilling to be frightened, and it is necessary to be discreet; at the same time, it is only too easy to forget what one is talking about. Mary Hocking writes brilliantly on many levels at once, because she knows that the everyday contains another, stranger reality: it only takes attention, an at first casual intensification of vision, to open the crack between the worlds….

The Mind Has Mountains is a funny, serious book, to be read and reread: the kind of book that bides its time, perhaps remaining an innocuous entertainment for years until a reader is opened to it by explosive experience—'so that was what it meant!' It is a Steppenwolf for our time; and, I think, the equal of Hesse's. (p. 22)

Nick Totton, in The Spectator (© 1976 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), October 16, 1976.