Motiveless Malignity

D.A.N. Jones

  • The Dwarfs by Harold Pinter
    Faber, 183 pp, £11.99, October 1990, ISBN 0 571 14446 2
  • The Comfort of Strangers, and Other Screenplays by Harold Pinter
    Faber, 226 pp, £14.99, September 1990, ISBN 0 571 14419 5
  • The Circus Animals by James Plunkett
    Hutchinson, 305 pp, £12.99, September 1990, ISBN 0 09 173530 0
  • The South by Colm Toibin
    Serpent’s Tail, 238 pp, £7.99, May 1990, ISBN 1 85242 170 3

Ever since 1958, when his play The Birthday Party opened in London, Harold Pinter has been admired by the judicious for the witty realism of his dialogue and the engrossing mystery of his omissions – particularly his omission of motive, his blank refusal to explain why: why his characters are behaving so weirdly, why they are saying such terrible things. He had written a novel, The Dwarfs, in the early Fifties, before he began writing plays, but he did not offer it for publication: he turned part of it into a play (with the same title) which was, he now says, ‘quite abstract, mainly, I believe, because I omitted the essential character of Virginia from it’. Last year, he went back to his old novel and prepared it for its present publication, mainly by cutting it down: despite the omissions, there is not quite so much mystery as usual about the motivation of the principal characters, Virginia and the three young men, Pete, Len and Mark, all Hackney people. Being of the same generation as Pinter and, like him, a London grammar-school boy, I claim to understand these young people of the Fifties, to recognise them with a sort of nostalgia, to take pleasure in their realistic conversations, their cross-talk or stichomythia.

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