SPELLA-HO by H.E. Bates


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The latest US publication by British novelist Bates (My Uncle Silas, A House of Women) reminds us that books, however popular they once may have been--as Bates' books were in Britain in the 1930's and 40's--do not always age gracefully or travel well. Set in the Midlands of England toward the end of the 19th century, this is the rag-to-riches story of Bruno Shadbolt, an illiterate laborer whose fascination with the local gland house--Spella-Ho--shapes his life. Fleeing his squalid home and drunken father, Bruno works as a delivery man. But then, taken on as rent-collector by the owner of Spella. Ho, who is impressed by his toughness, Bruno prospers. When the owner dies, Bruno sets off for London to make his fortune, but fails. Down and out, he returns home--only to learn that he has been left money by his late employer. With this money he invests in land and factories. Rich and important at last, he befriends the new aristocratic owners of Spella-Ho, becoming engaged to one of the family, the beautiful idealist Virginia. But just before the marriage, he meets up again with Jenny, a former music-hall performer he once knew, and marries her instead. Virginia commits suicide. Meanwhile, Bruno, ruthless in his business dealings, disliked for his harsh treatment of his associates, is regarded as a moral leper, though he continues to prosper by investing in all those inventions that transformed towns in the early 20th century. Finally, deserted by Jenny, who tires of his obsession with making money, he is a rich, lonely old man living in Spella-Ho, now his own home. Bates' Bruno leaves us unmoved, exhausted by a plot that rattles on relentlessly to the predictable end. Any echoes of the masters of the Midlands working-class novel like Bennett, Priestly, and George Eliot remain faint. A dated potboiler.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 1989
Publisher: Severn--dist. by Mercedes (62 Imlay St., Brooklyn, NY 11231)