Romer Wilson, Mexican Interlude, The Game

May 11th, 2014

Several readers contacted me recently with recommendations that range across fifty years, from 1920 to the early 1970s.

• Romer Wilson

David Odell wrote, “I wonder if you have considered the British author Romer Wilson 1891-1930 for your excellent pages”:

She’s a most unusual and interesting writer who has been almost entirely neglected since her death, although most of her work is available on-line at Hathi Trust or the Bodleian Library.

Her first novel Martin Schuler was published in 1918 and largely written a few years before. It’s a somewhat Dorian Gray-ish story of a young and successful German Composer who dies just before 1914. Apart from anything else it is extraordinary that there is not the least trace of jingoistic war-reference in it. It is chiefly about the creative imagination and its relationship with individual egoism and morality, art and life, in other words, set on a German stage.

Her third novel The Death Of Society was her most famous, winning the Hawthornden prize for 1921. There is a good review by Ludwig Lewisohn available at the unz archive website, and an introduction by Hugh Walpole in one of the online editions. The sticking point for many readers was that the central rather ecstatic love affair takes place between a man and a woman who have no common language.

Her other better known books are a sort of biography of Emily Bronte [Life and Private History of Emily Jane Bronte] and the editing of three books of fairy tales, Green Magic (1928), Silver Magic (1929) and Red Magic (1930), the latter of which is extremely rare, due perhaps to the Kai Neilsen illustrations .

Wilson’s third novel, The Grand Tour (1923), is available on the Internet Archive. It’s a loose collection of letters and journal entries by one Alphonse Marichaud, a sculptor who travels around Europe, encountering the rich and artistic, and offering his own ironic commentaries. The Spectator’s reviewer gushed about it:

The book is an extraordinarily good one. Miss Romer Wilson possesses what one of the persons in her novel declares himself to be without “that strange occasional genius which is independent of experience.” …

The Grand Tour is not a book for the indiscriminate devourer of fiction. It is strongly intellectual and cultured stuff, although (since it is truly imaginative) the intellectual content appears in the form of imagery and emotion. Miss Wilson possesses a superb style—exuberant, well-fed, humorous, full of imagery and colour. It gives the impression that she writes rapidly, torrentially, out of a full imagination—an impression reinforced by an amazing inaccuracy in spelling which extends over three languages—English, French and German—and, in the case of French, scatters the accents with the fine carelessness of a henwife feeding poultry.

The Grand Tour, we joyfully confess, has knocked us off our perch, which to the reviewer is the rarest of luxuries.

Mexican Interlude, by Joseph Henry Jackson

Peter Laurence wrote to recommend that the site devote more space to travel books:mexicaninterlude

My #1 suggestion: Mexican Interlude (1936) by Joseph Henry Jackson. When Jackson and his wife drove their Model A across the border, even Mexican food was rare in the United States. He starts with in-depth descriptions of tacos in Laredo and heads south from there. Poor roads and other challenges greet them as they head to Mexico City. They practice the language, learn about the culture and in seeing the art world, meet John and Carol Steinbeck. Cosmopolitan and cheap, Mexico City was to the 1930’s what Paris was to the 1920’s. Mexican Interlude is an exhilarating book.

Reviewing the book for The Saturday Review, Katherine Woods wrote of it,

And when Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Henry Jackson set out in their car they were neither standardizing their travels nor striving after originality: they were having a good time. They were far more eager to see what they themselves found interesting than to follow in the footsteps of other tourists. And they saw uncounted fascinating things, in consequence, that the average tourist never knows exist. The human thing, always. The different thing. The thing that is characteristic. Beauty here, and there only a sudden strangeness. Ancient things, cheek by jowl with
bewildering new upheavals. Nightmare of hybrid architecture, but Diego Rivera to talk with. Real adventure, sometimes, though they followed the new Pan-American Highway and found it good. And the whole journey seen with eyes not only generously open to new sights and oddities and beauty, but quick with laughter.

The Game, by Izzy Abrahamithegame(fr)

Gianni Ponti wrote to recommend Izzy Abrahami’s 1973 novel, The Game:

It’s the only novel that Abrahami–who’s been, at different times, an architect, game designer, graphic artist, journalist, movie maker, and (now) blogger (see antvprod.blogspot.com)–ever published. It’s sort of uncategorizable–SF but not SF, fantastic but not fantasy. Probably the closest thing to it is something by J. G. Ballard from the seventies, but imagine J. G. Ballard with a healthy dose of Balzac’s le Comedie Humaine.

It starts with a man in a tall residential apartment house looking out at the windows of the apartments across from him. It quickly develops into a game in which he begins to predict what will happen based on their behavior patterns,but the game spreads to his wife and then other neighbors and grows more complex, more insidious, and begins to consume them all. [The cover of the French edition (Le Jeu des Grands Ensembles) conveys the situation well.–ed.]

It was published with cover quotes by Anthony Burgess (“It is beautifully contrived, ingenious, economical, thoroughly convincing. It is also witty and civilized, and … must earn a kind of astonished applause.”) and Marshall McLuhan (“a parable of high-rise living. By pushing the voyeur to the extreme, the binocular game flips into the audible-tactible world of existence”).

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