Richard Adams Adams, Richard (Vol. 18) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Adams, Richard 1920–

Adams, formerly a British civil servant, is the author of the international best seller, Watership Down. (See also CLC, Vol. 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One of the things we are dealing with in [The Plague Dogs] is a prolonged and minutely detailed metaphor. In their tortuous, six-week odyssey from the Buchenwald atmosphere of ARSE to a rather contrived happy ending, Snitter and Rowf move through some literary territory as mountainous as the craggy English countryside (beloved of all Wordsworthians) that is their geographical setting. Clearly, they are canine shadows of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, but they are also echoes of Didi and Gogo in Beckett's Waiting for Godot, objects of total helplessness, playing willy-nilly a game whose rules they have not been taught. Then there are Snitter's insane monologues as he reels across the desolate landscape; the situation could be stolen from King Lear. Even the deus ex machina ending, which violates the structural principles of realistic fiction but gives the reader emotional satisfaction, is introduced with a flourish, the author coming onstage and engaging in a versified discussion with the reader concerning whether he can allow his canine heroes to live. One cannot help thinking of Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, even Bertolt Brecht, who rescues Macheath at the end of The Threepenny Opera in a similarly implausible style.

By such devices and others, particularly by his repeatedly felt presence behind the scenes, manipulating the action and commenting on it, Adams underlines a fact that is already apparent: like them or not, his novels differ from all others being written today. He clearly aspires to the literary big leagues—the Cervantes league, let us say. Whether he makes it or not is a decision for a later generation; at present, he seems to fall just a little short, but his failure (if, in fact,...

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Phoebe-Lou Adams

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Garrulous dogs, unlikely coincidences, unnecessary ghosts, irrelevant imitations of authors ranging from Homer to Milne—Mr. Adams bestrews his pages lavishly and shamelessly with all these literary sins but never commits the unforgivable sin of losing the reader's interest. His novels sweep along like a demented river, and [The Plague Dogs] is no exception. It is also, in its attack on useless, brutal experiments with animals, much tougher and much more pertinent to modern life than anything he has previously published, and quite unexpectedly funnier, for the same sedulous apery that produces those damned Homeric similes makes Mr. Adams a deadly parodist of cheap journalese, parliamentary rhetoric, and evasive official mush-mouthery. The story offers frequent excuse for such amusements since it concerns two battered dogs who escape, with widespread resultant uproar, from Animal Research, Surgical and Experimental, known familiarly and maliciously as A.R.S.E.

Phoebe-Lou Adams, "PLA: 'The Plague Dogs'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1978, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 241, No. 4, April, 1978, p. 126.

Robert Kiely

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Neither the author's reputation nor the title nor the first tranquil pages can possibly prepare the reader for this astonishing book ["The Girl in a Swing"]. Richard Adams is best known as the author of "Watership Down," an animal fable that has attracted a following scarcely less fanatical than the early Tolkien addicts. The title of his new novel evokes childhood pleasures and the charm of a Fragonard. Its early pages on first sight seem to be the relatively commonplace memories of a conventional middle-class Englishman [Alan Desland] whose father owns a china shop in Berkshire.

Indeed, even as the events and style of the narrative take unexpected and breathtaking turns, the pleasant, familiar, civilized comforts of provincial England never disappear. And, remarkably for a work of modern fiction, these comforts are treated without scorn or sentimentality, but with an intelligent and philosophical fondness reminiscent of an earlier period in the history of the English novel….

All in all, by contemporary standards of violence, despair and sexual overkill, Alan Desland appears to be an unpromising hero. (p. 14)

[But] Richard Adams turns his commonplace man into the hero-victim of a tale of fatal passion. To say that the novel is a marriage of Trollope and Wagner is to make it sound like an absurd muddle. But it is neither absurd nor a muddle. Alan never ceases being the solid, decent chap he was brought up to be. He remains completely believable throughout. The love scenes between him and Käthe are presented with lyrical beauty, a touch of humor and increasing obsessiveness. Käthe's ability to enchant is never in doubt. Finally, the ghost story is absolutely terrifying, as gripping and psychologically penetrating as anything in James or Poe. Richard Adams has written, with marvelous tact and narrative power, a strange, beautiful, haunting book. (pp. 14, 26)

Robert Kiely, "A Marriage of Magic and the Mundane," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1980 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 27, 1980, pp. 14, 26.

Anne Tyler

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Girl in a Swing is a study of guilt made manifest—of the far-reaching effects of the past, clattering in upon a fragile porcelain world. It's narrated by [Alan Desland], in exactly the tone you'd expect from such a man: quiet, reflective, with just the right amount of fussiness. He takes his time. He digresses often upon the subject of ceramics, which is not only his business but his passion. He's given to quoting poetry at what he considers to be appropriate moments. Some of the events he describes are included not because they're essential to the plot, one suspects, but because Alan takes a certain gentle enjoyment in recounting them—just as we enjoy reading about them. But it all works together, ultimately. His leisurely description of the weather, at the outset, wends its way toward a point. "How should I not weep?" he asks suddenly, and he tells us about a dream he had in which all his figurines were crying tiny flakes of tears.

In fact, The Girl in a Swing is a genuinely pleasant book, and the credit rests with its finely drawn narrator. Alan could easily have been a cartoon, a male old maid puttering among his china shepherdesses. Instead he's someone we understand and admire, comfortable with his placid routine, happy in his work. (pp. 72-3)

But it's only with the male of the species that [Adams is] so successful. The women are indistinct….

As a result, any part of the plot that rests upon the women's shoulders (and a great deal does) rings slightly false….

Never mind; read the book anyway. Alan Desland is a jewel of a narrator, his ceramics are fascinating, and his village is charming. Think of The Girl in a Swing as a restful sojourn in a small, backwater life you'd never have glimpsed otherwise. (p. 73)

Anne Tyler, "Books: 'The Girl in a Swing'," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1980 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 13, No. 20, May 19, 1980, pp. 72-3.

Roger Sale

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The Girl in a Swing] Adams banks everything on the clue, that telltale narrative device that came in with the detective story and was perfected by Freud. Adams's job is to keep going a plausible tale about Alan Desland, a young, talented Berkshire ceramics dealer who falls in love with a beautiful German stenographer in Copenhagen, while dropping enough clues so that he can drive his story to the ordained awful moment toward which the clues have been pointing all along….

What Adams does pleasantly and well is weave his story in and out of places and things that seem to provide clues pointing to impending horrors, but don't….

Adams is not, I think, much interested in hinting to us that the strangest things in life are the common things that appear in everyday lives. He seems from the outset interested in strangeness itself and in making it seem strange to us, and the realistic surface of the story is there just to make that strangeness seem even more haunting than a dream or invented world might be….

Since The Girl in a Swing is a pleasure to read but not a book that will bear rereading, a reviewer is obliged to say no more about its ending. Of course to say this suggests its limitation, but that is not necessarily a decisive fault. The book is after all an entertainment. Still, some drawbacks can be suggested. First, there are more hints and clues, more balls tossed into the...

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