Simon Raven Peter Ackroyd - Essay

Peter Ackroyd

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There are a great many novels concerned with political intrigue, but none of them have Mr Raven's peculiarly steely glint. He is a master craftsman, who can change scenes and characters without overt discomfort; his prose is always amusing, elegant, intelligent and never below the belt. Where else except in a Raven novel [Bring Forth the Body] could you find an old whore called Maisie who calls everyone "duckie" and paints her clients, as it were, in oils? Or a maid known as Dolly who is both honest and hardworking? A certain Peregrina Lloyd-James who is bored rather than tired, and a detective sergeant who looks like a "jacketed barrel"? Anglo-Saxon attitudes are alive and well and being ruthlessly sent up.

There are some odd moments, of course, but they are no more serious than the occasional cross-bat stroke. It is only in a night-club known as Annabel's (which must surely be a fictional creation) that matters go seriously wrong. It is here that an orgy is held, but unhappily it turns out to be an orgy of sentiments. There is a masque with a moral, and it is a moral which becomes all too painfully clear when Somerset Lloyd-James, the deceased party, is found to have been disturbed by religious doubts before his suicide: "God is not mocked" was his password to Hell, which only goes to show that the upper classes have forsaken their old virtues of self-reliance and stolidity, and have come to rely upon cheap sentiment. But, all in all, Bring Forth The Body is a British fiction of the most traditional and entertaining kind, and all the more solid for being self-consciously so.

Peter Ackroyd, "This England," in The Spectator (© 1974 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 223, No. 7636, November 2, 1974, p. 573.∗