Ronald Harwood Leonard Buckley - Essay

Leonard Buckley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Is the lady a dipsomaniac? Is she just eccentric? Or is she a tramp? Our curiosity is gripped at once [in The Guests] as she lurches carefully from her bedroom, stops to consider what is missing in her appearance and then goes back to put on her skirt.

But whatever the explanation is of her oddness she is clearly about to give a dinner party. There are spurts of annoyance and satisfaction as one light in the dining room will not come on but another does. She lays out the name-cards round the table. She pats her hair. She dithers as a waiting hostess will. Then she opens the door to her first guests and in a moment she has plunged into those overbright exchanges that make up a social occasion. You cannot, of course, help noticing that the exchanges are all one-sided. She is making up the guests as well….

As an exercise in loneliness all this would have been poignant enough. But gradually we perceived something else beyond. Like their presence at the dinner table the people themselves were imaginary. There had never been a family or a husband. "I did not know I had a sister until I met Peter", the lady confided. But Peter, like the sister, was make-believe.

In short Mr Harwood had given us a slice of life in which there were several layers of reality to be peeled. [The Guests] was impressively done.

Leonard Buckley, in a review of "The Guests," in The Times, London, December 11, 1972, p. 6.