International Tale

John Banville

  • A Theft by Saul Bellow
    Penguin, 128 pp, £3.95, March 1989, ISBN 0 14 011969 8

At the very start of this brief fiction the author blazons the name of his heroine – Clara Velde – like a declaration of intent. Bellow always opens bravely, plunging his readers into the midst of things, and if the bravery sometimes strikes us as mere bravado (as for example, with Augie March’s ‘I am an American ...’), the headlong stride of the style, its weight and energy, sweep us forward unresisting. Here, however, the clarion call of Ms Velde’s name gives pause. It is very American, yet it is not quite contemporary. We seem to hear in it an echo of an earlier New York scene, of the jewelled and grandly brocaded America of the late 19th century. In short, the reigning spirit here might be that of Henry James.

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