This Real Night

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This posthumously published sequel to THE FOUNTAIN OVERFLOWS (1957) tells the story of a close-knit and talented family in the second decade of the century. Abandoned by their father and moved to London by their eccentric mother, three girls and their schoolboy brother find their way from a sheltered adolescence through the bewildering mazes of adult life. While Cordelia, the self-centered eldest, travels inexorably toward a bourgeois marriage and Mary and Rose (the narrator) study music and begin their professional careers, the mother, Clare, and the ebullient younger brother, Richard Quin, provide the emotional warmth that welds the family together. Moving through social circles that include a philanthropic millionaire and the child of a murderer, the young people become increasingly aware of their own vulnerability and of the intricacy of adult relationships. As World War I closes in and Clare becomes ill, the moments of happiness that illuminate their world seem precious and intense.

Several things raise this novel above the level of the commonplace. The rich texture of Rebecca West’s prose evokes with equal vividness the freshness of the English countryside and the mystery of London drawing rooms. In addition, the peculiar intensity of family feeling which permeates the story has a real impact on the reader. Friendship, love, and jealousy are all suffused with a glow of vitality which makes them stand out against the bleakness of poverty and death which threatens always to close in.