ELEPHANT'S NEST IN A RHUBARB TREE by H.E. Bates

ELEPHANT'S NEST IN A RHUBARB TREE

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A third collection (A Month by the Lake; A Party for the Girls) of 20 stories, written by the late British writer between 1938 and 1964, that's by turns antic, delicate, and charming. In the title story, a dull-witted but happy boy who believes literally in elephants' nests provides an object lesson for the narrator, who has now grown up, "whereas Arty's face is still the face of a boy." Likewise, in "Love in a Wych Elm," another grown narrator remembers how he once "married" a Candleton girl and played house with her in a tree. In retrospect, he sees the little girl as deluded about the family's financial and social position; but the magic of that pretend "marriage" remains vivid. Other stories are comic: in "An Italian Haircut," we meet a zany, wild barber; and in "The Trespasser," Aunt Leonora, a woman given to speaking her mind and chasing mythical cows from her garden, meets and eventually marries Freddie Elphinstone--in a story narrated with equal parts of amusement and affection by her nephew. "The Captain" is very different in tone: the Captain beats and terrorizes his hired boy, allowing his dog to eat the boy's otter, and the boy takes awful revenge on the dog--the story is more Lawrentian, whereas many of the others bring Chekhov to mind. Bates also evokes an unsentimental pity for provincials: in "Thelma," a young bedroom maid early in life meets a London salesman very briefly, and for decades she invokes his memory--until she learns that he's dead, whereupon she dies, too. At worst, the pieces here are merely quaint; but at best they're quiet, moving testimony to the surprises of the ordinary world of social intercourse.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1989
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:




MORE BY H.E. BATES