GO, SAID THE BIRD by Geoffrey Cotterell


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Phillip Terris starts and ends as an unedifying English pipsqueak of a universally familiar type. He willingly, unreflectingly spends over twenty-five years of his life dancing attendance on the Milton family and the price of admission to their family circle costs him every indignity. In the pre-WW II months, he was chosen from the factory ranks to be Mr. Milton's personal assistant. From the moment Terris drops his own friends in order to be available to the Miltons, his status as eternal hanger-on is plainly foreshadowed. When Milton senior dies, Terris is forced by an unfriendly Milton son-in-law to return to clerical oblivion but manages to cling to the fringes of his idea of glamor as the widow Milton's sashboy. Although the story is told with author omniscience, neither Terris nor any of the other many characters is ever observed in a moment of self-recognition or curative self-loathing. It thus remains a case study, with all the detachment the term implies. Some readers will sympathize at the Tsk Tsk level, while most will wonder whether they are reading about personal weakness or simply inconsequential stupidity. Mr. Cotterell, whose greatest success in this country was a B.O.M. choice in 1953, Westward the Sun, has great novelistic advantages--a pinpointing use of dialogue and a masterly recall of period detail... The title quote comes from Eliot's Burnt Norton and continues: ""human kind cannot bear very much reality."" That's certainly true of the novels made popular by the middleaged housewife and the reality of Terris is a depressing superficiality.

Publisher: Little, Brown