Roderick L(angmere) Haig-Brown

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The Times Literary Supplement

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[Pool and Rapid: The Story of a River] is a nature-story of a decidedly original kind. By making a British Columbian river the central object of his narrative, Mr. Haig-Brown has ingeniously avoided one of the principal difficulties with which authors of this class of work have to contend. A story written round the life of an animal is almost compelled to falsify Nature to some extent by endowing the creature with a too human mentality. Personality conferred upon an inanimate object, on the other hand, is at once recognized as a harmless literary convention, which leaves the author free to adhere strictly to the truth in dealing with the living accessories to his picture. The story of the Tashish river begins, quite frankly, with a fascinating piece of Indian mythology to account for its creation, and the stream is everywhere treated as a human soul with a markedly feminine temperament…. This treatment, applied to an animal, would amount to an intolerable piece of "nature-faking," but here it is unobjectionable, since it cannot mislead. The life in the water and beside it, of the salmon, the bears, the beavers, the deers and the birds is left to be described with all the accuracy of a keen observer who knows what he is talking about and is under no temptation to distort his facts. Much of the charm of the book is due to such descriptions, though a large element of human interest is also contributed, through the introduction of the first settler and his family. These characters are perhaps somewhat idealized, but the account of their struggles is a true and vivid picture of the advance of civilization in such an environment.

On the question as to how far the interests of progress justify interference with the primitive amenities of the river and the livelihoods dependent on it the author has much to say; but he preserves so strict an impartiality that we hesitate to guess where his real sympathies lie—though he leaves the stream at least temporarily triumphant in its rebellion against control. Mr. Haig-Brown is, indeed, least successful when he abandons narrative for argument; his defence of trapping as contrasted with fur-farming will be found unconvincing even by those who are far from being extreme humanitarians. He is at his best as a descriptive writer; the culminating passage, telling of the great flood which thwarts the damming project, is particularly thrilling, but throughout the work the author contrives a happy blend of realistic observation and poetic fancy which cannot fail to have a wide appeal among the varied tastes of lovers of Nature.

"'Pool and Rapid'," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1932; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 1609, December 1, 1932, p. 915.

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