Sylvia Ashton-Warner Nancy Wilson Ross - Essay

Nancy Wilson Ross

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Many people, including this reviewer, who read Sylvia Ashton-Warner's first novel, "Spinster," closed the book with an exhilarating sense of personal discovery. Here, one felt, was a fresh voice. Though the writing seemed at times almost willfully oblique, the novelist demonstrated a singular creativity in her account of an unconventional New Zealand school teacher's experiences….

Mrs. Ashton-Warner's present novel, "Incense to Idols," … tells the story of a worldly young Parisian widow….

As in "Spinster" the story is told in the form of an interior monologue. Thus the reader learns, from the heroine herself, that Germaine is young, ravishingly beautiful, fond of drink, exceptionally gifted, devastatingly soignée, and fascinating to the opposite sex. An inordinate amount of attention is paid by the author—and one can only conclude, with a novelist of Mrs. Ashton-Warner's stature, by deliberate design—to detailed descriptions of what the heroine is wearing. Yet these costumes sound much more like clothes from a provincial main street emporium than from the wardrobe of a chic young Parisian. This seemingly minor point cannot be overlooked because of the emphasis Mrs. Warner herself places on it. It is impossible to believe that Germaine is a sophisticated Parisian, or, for that matter, a gifted artist…. [In] general, the heroine seems more a frustrated suburban matron than a free-wheeling young widow…....

(The entire section is 426 words.)