THE MARTLET'S TALE by Nicholas Delbance
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Even if the comparison is not to be pursued beyond this point, this is the second novel within the year (James Merrill's The (Diblos) Notebook) in which Greece is the background for a talent which is equidistant between prose and poetry, both elliptical and laconic. The martlet is a heraldic symbol; according to an old saying the bird is ""footless, sleepeth in wind, and dies when aye it land."" It refers here to young Sotis who is ""possessionless, no feet"" although his grandmother who is dying has indicated she will tell him where her considerable wealth is buried. By an act of will alone she will survive the next 97 days until her festival day. In what is actually a triptych of modern Greece, scenes of a small village, of Rhodes, of Athens, while Sotis drifts from one to the other, leaving Danai who loves him for Chrysanthi who does not, all provide sudden contrasts: candles and neon lights; marble and clay; ancient-primitive versus modern-decadent. The book has stronger descriptive than narrative values, and the occasional characters have more definition that Sotis-- the coffinmaker and his inanimate inamorata; Sotis' uncles; and the indestructible old woman defying death just as in life she had defied her sons. But throughout sensuous images and impressions, lines with a shining simplicity (""black stone minarets skewered the sky; lamplight stretched a white arm on sea"") leave their mark on a page. Its quality is perhaps easier to spot than a readership.

Pub Date: July 11th, 1966
Publisher: Lippincott