THE TENEMENT by lain Crichton Smith


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As in this Scottish author's A Fair Field Full of Folk (1982), another grab bag group of mainly oldsters cope with loss and time passing, but this time instead of cozy village contours, the frame is a moldering tenement in a town near Glasgow. Harshly lit, the characters' eccentricities seem more strident, their motivations thinner. Like the clergyman in Folk, Trevor Porter, a very minor poet and failed teacher, contemplates his loss of confidence, even of self, in the wake of his wife's death. He discovers too late his love for a wife whose own aspirations and virtues come back to him through the testimony of others. And is he responsible for her destruction, this self-styled ""Hit Man of the Poetry Society""? While Trevor mulls, other tenants come into view: a ragged, abusive 80-year-old, her life of hate a tribute to a long-dead husband; a widow who pays for her sins of adultery by loneliness and obesity; a brutal laborer, a wife beater, in whom aggression rages like a disease. Then there are those that cope: an old widower, a retired milkman who tells jovial salacious tales about his job in a public lay, whose witness of an assault forces him to a deeper dedication to his dead wife; and a genteel cleaning lady (hired by Trevor) who wears gloves and drinks her tea (in a cup, not a mug) while ticking off the crude new generation. Among all the oldsters is a young couple, Linda and John. It's Linda who is visited by a spectral ex-tenant; and John who, in violence, ends an old order and gives Trevor a new beginning. In spite of Smith's sentimental asides on the old tenement (when each tenant ""cries out I am, I am""), the characters and their several miseries, although a bit scanty, are more than mildly diverting.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Victor Gollancz--dist. by David & Charles