Yanovsky, Vassily S(emenovich) 1906–
[No Man's Time defies] neat pigeon-holing.
The hero, Cornelius Yamb, [moves] between two worlds, or to be more precise he travels to Canada to find Bruno, the heir to a vast fortune, and then brings him back to Chicago. The Canadian episode is partly fantasy … and partly escapist … and partly realist, too. Although entertaining, this part of the book sags somewhat during the chapters given over entirely to incomprehensible sermons, and lengthy philosophical ramblings from Bruno….
The latter part of the book is far more satisfactory. Cornelius's decline … and his aimless, unhappy wanderings through the waste-land city make absorbing reading. There is a particularly powerful description of the death of his wife and children in an apartment fire—no question of fantasy here, it is as real as a kick in the leg. The ending is puzzling, with the hero's return to the Village, a place that is finally seen as a dream world, some kind of earthly Valhalla. At this point, the Village gets a little too good to be true, and the book ultimately fails to involve the reader. This is a pity because otherwise No Man's Time holds together not as an uneasy combination of fantasy-escapism and fantasy-realism but as a powerful and occasionally very moving account of one man's decline.
"Village Voice," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1967; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3404, May 25, 1967, p. 471.
["No Man's Land"] is a fable. To say this is to say that V.S. Yanovsky's novel belongs to a large and ill-defined family of literary inventions—a family that includes fairy tales and allegories, parables and dreams…. The common family characteristic in all these is that they make no concessions to credibility. They use time and space as if their authors had invented the concepts; they move willfully between the possible and the impossible, between the rational and the unknown…. Fables are often didactic, but a clear sense of significance is not, I think, a necessary part of our appreciation of them; there is a kind of nonsense-fable, a story that means nothing, that is very appealing….
"No Man's Time" seems to me a nonsense-fable. Certainly the action is fabulous enough….
Much of this [novel] is familiar dream-stuff: the welcoming strangers, flight and pursuit, the strange journey, the obscure and threatening figures that hover at the edges of the action. Some of it can be described in myth-terms: Yamb is a Questor; Bruno is a sacrificed prophet; the village wife will do for an Earth-mother. And the two lives of Cornelius-Conrad make the whole thing an exercise in that modish modern theme, the Question of Identity.
All these familiar elements are in the book, but I can see no way of putting them together into a meaning. There is, to be sure, one possible guide to the point of it all: the prophet Bruno does a good deal of extempore philosophizing and predicting…. But whether the reader is meant to take these Blavatsky-ish utterances as wisdom or as travesty is not clear….
The plotting is clumsy and shapeless; the characters, who are compared to the figures on playing cards, are indeed just that—flat and dehumanized….
The book seems, in the end, not so much bad as unrealized—the fitful evidence of an extraordinary imagination that only fragmentarily reaches the page. Some episodes have the force of a half-forgotten nightmare, and for that moment one feels the cold shock of recognition. Most of it reads like someone's narration of a long and incoherent dream, and other people's dreams are the most boring of narrative forms.
Samuel Hynes, "Strange Journey," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission),...
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