Graham Hough

  • Old Soldiers by Paul Bailey
    Cape, 120 pp, £4.95, February 1980, ISBN 0 224 01783 7
  • Nocturnes for the King of Naples by Edmund White
    Deutsch, 148 pp, £3.95, February 1980, ISBN 0 233 97173 4
  • Solo Faces by James Salter
    Collins, 220 pp, £5.50, February 1980, ISBN 0 00 221983 2
  • Sol by Mario Satz, translated by Helen Lane
    Sidgwick, 432 pp, £7.95, February 1980, ISBN 0 283 98607 7

No doubt it is yet another symptom of the decline of the West that we can so rarely afford proper novels nowadays, only skimpy little pieces of 130 pages or so, barely enough to last from dinner to bedtime. These are not novellen, purpose-built long-short-stories, with their defined themes and central symbols, but stripped-down, elliptical narratives that once would have been told at far greater length. Aesthetically, this may be a gain. Such a contracted form must preserve the strongest flavours, the crises of passion, sensation, eccentricity or pathos; what gets left out is the mashed potatoes of descriptive realism. But seen as a social phenomenon, which it also is, the novel so conceived starts to fulfil a different role. It is no longer the companion for days, or weeks, to be picked up, dropped and resumed, digested and pondered over in between. It is something to be swallowed at a sitting, a rapid mood-changer. Here are two examples, one English and one American, both extremely accomplished.

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