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This 1955 novel predates Scottish writer Jenkins' other works published here (A Would-Be Saint, Fergus Lamont); and while it shares their general concerns (the quest for sanctity, or, barring that, simple plain morality, in the modern world), it has a dense, out-of-time, and very physical shading that is often stunning and always unusual. Calum and Neil are grown brothers during World War II, draft-rejects doing civilian forestry work on a Scottish estate where they go up high in the evergreens to take cones for later replanting (seedlings having been made scarce by the war). Calum is a hunchback but immaculate of spirit: he can't bear to see suffering of any order, which has led him on occasion to release rabbits from the traps set by the estate's gamekeeper, Duror. This enrages Duror, a man with a long-bedridden wife (and hence a deadly sexual clog): his disgust for the misshapen cone-gatherer grows pathological. Nor are the high-born owners of the estate untouched by the primal drama between the two cripples (one emotional, one corporeal): a young son is sympathetic to the cone-gatherer; his mother is revolted, uneasy. And it all turns out tragically--as Jenkins writes with a clean starkness that's relieved by the soaring lines of the scenery--the tall trees--and the integrity of his theme: Goodness at any price--even if it means inevitable failure or death. No other British writer seems to deal today with goodness so uncompromisingly (compared to someone like Iris Murdoch, Jenkins seems like Francis of Assisi)--and this novel may be the most lucent of his books available here, one that has a quiver and ache halo-ing it that is very affecting.

Pub Date: March 2nd, 1981
Publisher: Taplinger