Sean's Reviews > The Greater Infortune / The Connecting Door

The Greater Infortune / The Connecting Door by Rayner Heppenstall
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bookshelves: 2016, buried-book-club, verbivoracious-press

Two books in one, courtesy of Verbivoracious Press and their Reprint Series. The first is Heppenstall's revision of his novel Saturnine, originally published in 1943 and reissued as The Greater Infortune by Peter Owen in 1960. This picaresque tale set in London on the very cusp of WWII follows intrepid picaro and failed industrialist A. W. Leckie as he loafs about town and country mooching off friends, chasing women, dabbling in astrology, and largely ignoring his impending paternal duties vis-à-vis his pregnant and remarkably tolerant wife Alison. It's a charming book, banal at times in its details, generous with its witty banter, and often lyrical in its portrait of the pre-war atmosphere in London. The final few scenes are particularly poignant as Leckie comes to confront the personal reality of war. (4/5)

The second book, The Connecting Door, is what some critics consider to be the British answer to the French nouveau roman. In 1967 Hélène Cixous declared that Heppenstall had in fact inaugurated the nouveau roman in 1939 with his first novel The Blaze of Noon. Not having read that book I can't comment on it, but I can see how The Connecting Door fits in with other works loosely corralled under the New Novel moniker. The text is a cycling narrative centered in an unnamed city likely based on Strasbourg in Alsace, a city Heppenstall visited several times in the 30s and 40s. The city's landmarks and landscape play a major role in the novel. The narrator, a journalist, is traveling around the region following up leads on stories for his paper The Examiner. The time frame is murky, mingling present narration with past recollection, populated with possible alter-egos, characters real or imagined by the narrator. The prose is more ornate and layered than that which characterizes the more well known nouveau roman texts of Robbe-Grillet, Duras, or Sarraute. However, there is the element of the objective lens present in the narrator's descriptions, though nowhere near to the extreme of Robbe-Grillet. The repetition, the rearrangement of the timeline, is subtle and somewhat buried, though, and I found it difficult to sustain interest in disentangling the various digressive strands. My curiosity did not rise to the challenge, or rather it rose and waned in time with the novel's aura of suspense, which Heppenstall, whether deliberately or not, does not maintain. (3/5)

While I had initially been more interested in reading The Connecting Door than The Greater Infortune, in the end Heppenstall's anti-hero Leckie appealed to me more than his anti-novel did. The star rating, for what its worth, should really be a combined 3.5. Heppenstall continues to intrigue me, and there are several of his books I intend to seek out in the future, specifically The Blaze of Noon, his memoir The Intellectual Part, and his work of criticism The Fourfold Tradition (1961), which compares traditional and experimental literature in Britain and France.
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Reading Progress

November 5, 2015 – Shelved
November 5, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
January 19, 2016 – Started Reading
January 19, 2016 – Shelved as: 2016
January 19, 2016 –
page 27
9.09% "In our cottage, there were three ghosts. The first was an ordinary poltergeist, which lived on the landing and knocked over lamps, furniture and so forth. The second was De Quincey. It had come to Effie's bedside one night, announced itself by name and implored Effie to stroke its hair. The third was half man, half beast."
January 21, 2016 –
page 108
36.36% "Snow climbed up the boles of the trees and pulled their branches down. It obliterated the division between flower-border, path and lawn. It banked itself up against the walls, first one wall and then, as the wind changed, the other. It turned the small shrubbery at the end of the garden into a dense, septentrional forest, the haunt of red-jawed wolves and sleeping bears."
January 21, 2016 –
page 132
44.44% "Now I had tea. I do not like the taste of tea, but am very fond of the sound of spoons rattling against china and the hour of the day at which tea is made and the lucid, fragrant steam rising in the first twilight."
January 25, 2016 – Shelved as: buried-book-club
January 25, 2016 – Shelved as: verbivoracious-press
January 25, 2016 – Finished Reading

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