Simon Raven

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John Coleman

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Brother Cain is the oddest book I expect to read this year. Jacinth Crewe, after expulsion from school, premature departure from Cambridge, and enforced resignation from the Army, is taken on … by an international organisation bent on combating 'democratic excess and Communist exploitation.'… After a staggering indoctrination course, some tests and assorted sex, he ends up in Venice, confronting his assigned victims at a masked ball. With Jacinth's character, with his easy bisexuality, his Cambridge nostalgia and dreams, his peculiar concern with guarding his 'honour' (while fairly coolly going through with one of the nastiest acts imaginable), it would take an analyst to deal adequately. There are faint echoes of both Daisy Ashford and Ian Fleming in the chilly, jolly tone: 'after a busy evening spent buying cars and clothes, they had some dinner'—Mr. Raven frequently tells you what they had for dinner, and very nice too—but there is something that is Mr. Raven's own in the twists and turns down to a nightmare finale. Once past the early dream-sequences and organisational oratory, which I found elaborately dull, though ingenious, one is sucked along to the end. It is an unwholesome, caddish, talented book. (p. 559)

John Coleman, "The Facts of Fiction," in The Spectator (© 1959 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 203, No. 6852, October 23, 1959, pp. 559-65.∗

Mr. Simon Raven's odd and evidently serious book [The English Gentleman] sets out, it seems, to explain the history, traditions, state of mind and present decline of the gentleman in England, now, poor fellow, apparently much disregarded and thrown aside like an old glove. A gentleman's first qualification being a sense of noblesse oblige, Mr. Raven lets himself out at once, blandly claiming no sense of obligation and a taste for privilege without the inclination to go along with its responsibilities. Those are indeed fighting words, and Mr. Raven works hard at justifying them in the book's searching autobiographical passages, told with a curious combination of Ancient Mariner buttonholing zeal and the throb of True Romance….

It is not too easy to decide, by the end, just what Mr. Raven thinks about the condition of the English gentleman, except that it is probably a dying one, or whether in fact he is suggesting that the Fellows of King's should take over government—no doubt in a friendly tone of voice.

"A Dying Race," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1961; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3120, December 15, 1961, p. 900.∗

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James Kennaway