Saturday 31 January 2004

Len Deighton: An Expensive Place to Die (1967)

Edition: Jonathan Cape, 1967
Review number: 1218

The fifth Len Deighton novel narrated by Harry Palmer is in some ways more like The Ipcress File than Billion-Dollar Brain (its predecessor) is. The cynical dark humour returns, and this gives the novel a similar atmosphere. It is, though, a more sordid novel, its subject being a high class Parisian brothel which has a sideline in blackmail, but it also shares the impression that the narrator has very little idea of what is actually going on - something which enables Deighton to spring surprises on the reader.

There is actually very little more to the plot than the existence of the brothel; all that really concerns the reader is to work out which of the characters in the novel is involved in investigating, protecting or running it. This is not very satisfactory from the point of view of the action in the story, something important in the thriller genre; it remains too unmotivated.

Harry Palmer continues to be anonymous, identified only as "the Englishman" by the other characters. In a new departure, his is not the only narrative voice. This is presumably so that the scenes can be rather more varied, with descriptions of events outside the Englishman's viewpoint. However, the scenes narrated from the point of view of other characters do not work so well; Deighton seems to have problems imagining how they will respond to the events they witness.

The novel, whose title comes from an Oscar Wilde quip about Paris, is something of a mixed bag. As a thriller, it isn't really exciting enough, but makes up for this in atmosphere. The plot is too diffuse, but it can be interesting guessing exactly who is on which side. While its predecessor Billion-Dollar Brain is really only for those who want to read everything Deighton wrote, An Expensive Place to Die would probably interest any fan of spy thrillers who picked it up.

Thursday 29 January 2004

Iris Murdoch: The Message to the Planet (1989)

Edition: Chatto & Windus, 1989
Review number: 1217

Towards the end of her career, Murdoch's novels got longer, following the general trend in fiction over the last couple of decades. Both The Message to the Planet and The Book and the Brotherhood are about twice as long as Under the Net or The Bell. The problem with the extra length is that Murdoch did not really seem to have more to say, and with The Message to the Planet I felt that a fair amount of the book seemed tedious, not an accusation which could be made about her early work.

The theme of The Message to the Planet is religious revelation; some aspect of religious feeling and thought is important in every one of her novels. The central character is Marcus Vallar, a strange man who performs a miracle: a former friend on his deathbed - possibly already dead - is cured when Marcus speaks a few words to him. The rest of the novel flows out of this event, as the other characters react in various ways and as Marcus tries to come to terms with its consequences. Since the principal viewpoint in the novel is that of his friend and sceptical disciple Alfred Ludens, Marcus remains an enigmatic figure defined more by the ideas others have about his character than by his own internal life, as he retreats to a private nursing home.

The parallels with the gospels are clear, even if Ludens - the equivalent of the evangelist - is not himself a believer. It is a little heavy-handed, and this is really what makes the novel fall flat. The implications of Murdoch's portrayal - that we might not get a completely accurate portrayal of the character of Jesus from the gospel writers - might disturb some devout Christians; but to most of the rest of us it isn't particularly profound. The way in which religion is portrayed contrasts with the depiction of the religious experience in The Bell, which must be one of the best novels ever written in this respect.

The Message to the Planet suddenly improves about a hundred pages from the end (that is, after the reader has got through 450). This is partly because the plot begins to move, after a lengthy stasis; with the gospel parallels in mind, this part could be considered to be Marcus' Passion story. The novel remains inconclusive; we never find out whether there actually was a message to the planet, and if so, what it said or who sent it. It is questionable even whether it is Marcus or Ludens who is the messenger, as Marcus hails Ludens by the title (the only time it appears in the text) and has immense difficulty in putting what he wants to say in words; the insights he wants to develop would become trivial if turned into English, hence his interest in universal and original languages.

There are interesting things in The Message to the Planet, but it is not a novel where the reader is absorbed by every page, which was my reaction to some of Murdoch's early works. I'm fairy sure that if it had been the first one of her books that I'd read, I would never have bothered to read any others.

Tuesday 27 January 2004

Iain M. Banks: Feersum Endjinn (1994)

Edition: Orbit, 1995
Review number: 1215

After several more straightforward works this novel is something of a return to the experimental style of Banks' earlier writing. Its structure of multiple interconnected narratives is reminiscent of The Bridge (although simpler), particularly as one of the threads is written phonetically.

The setting, like that of his previous science fiction novel (characterising those published under the middle initial as such) Against a Dark Background, is not the Culture that he is perhaps most famous for, but is uniquely an Earth derived future. Virtual reality of a sort - the rather hallucinogenic crypt - delivered via implants, mingles almost seamlessly with the real world. Death is not always permanent, as eight real lives are followed by eight virtual ones, and personalities can be recorded to live an independent life in the crypt. But the lifestyle is threatened, by what amounts to an interstellar computer virus, and the four protagonists of the narratives are people important in the crypt's fight to get human politicians to accept the need to do something about this.

So many ideas in Feersum Endjinn are familiar Iain Banks components that you might expect it to work quite well, particularly as it also contains new elements. But it never quite takes off. The phonetic narrative is partly to blame for this, being much harder to read than its equivalent in The Bridge even though it's not in Scots dialect. The other three narrators don't come across as distinct personalities, even the Asura, who is supposed to be a kind of blank slate, a being with no initial personality used by the crypt as a messenger in the real world.

Feersum Endjinn is part of the dip in form which marked Banks' writing in the first half of the nineties, from which he emerged with a more populist style.

Julian May: Conqueror's Moon (2003)

Edition: Voyager, 2003
Review number: 1216

May begins her third series (discounting the collaborative Trillium novels) with this story, part one of The Boreal Moon Tale. Like the Trillium series, it is a fairly standard fantasy and even shares one of the main features of these, novels, a system of magic in which stones and crystals play an important role as repositories of power. (This is something which can be seen in a lot of post-Tolkien fantasy, of course.)

The setting is the island of High Blenholme, once part of a large empire but now divided into petty kingdoms. Three are particularly important to May's story: Cathra, which seeks to re-unite the island as a response to a lengthy famine; Didion, the main opponent to this unification; and Moss, home of the strongest magicians where the royal family is divided between supporters of the other two mentioned nations. A lot of the story is structured around the personalities of the members of the royal families of Cathra and Moss, which makes the politics more believable than those in the quest and lost heir stories which are the staples of the genre.

Something else which is unusual is that the novel is written in such a way that the reader is on the side of the aggressor; almost always in fantasy, military matters are arranged so that the reader sympathises with those who are attacked. This is more generally the case at least in post 1945 literature; given that Tolkien wrote at least partly in response to the Second World War in the most influential fantasy novel, it is hardly surprising that I can't actually think of another example in the genre.

There are things which don't quite work. For example, the character of the ambitious teenage prince of Moss, Beynor, is not sufficiently three dimensional. He is so much a stereotypical teenager, whiny and irritating, that it is hard to see why the rulers of Didion take him at all seriously. (This is one of the factors used to cement the reader's sympathy with the Cathran side.) Surely he would not be the kind of person anyone would rest their strategy for defending their kingdom on.

The beginning is dull and formulaic; I suspect that there will be quite a few potential readers who have given up after the first few pages. In the introduction, we are introduced to the idea that The Boreal Moon Tale is the memoirs of a Cathran wizard; this, though is the only part of the novel written in the first person. It is extremely like the arch little historical introductions of which David Eddings is fond, right down to the turns of phrase, and if there is one writer I never expected the author of the Pleistocene Exile saga to remind me of, David Eddings would probably have been it. This describes the problem I had with Conqueror's Moon - it is good, and it has something out of the ordinary about it, but it is not as inventive and unusual as May has been at her best.

Friday 23 January 2004

Len Deighton: Billion-Dollar Brain (1966)

Edition: Jonathan Cape, 1966
Review number: 1214

The fourth Harry Palmer novel (in which he is still an unnamed narrator; the name was given him for the films) is the most dated of all of them. It relies on a plot device straight from James Bond or even The Man From UNCLE - the network of agents run by a computer. The novel begins with a Finnish journalist making waves when he starts investigating what he thinks is a massive British Secret Service operation in Finland - but there isn't one, so Palmer and his superiors want to find out just what he has stumbled across. The trail leads to a private army, assembled by a rabidly anti-Communist American billionaire, whose technicians have built the computer (in typical sixties style, one which fills several floors of a large building) to run the group's operations.

In the end, the computer is relatively unimportant, but it certainly does mark out Billion-Dollar Brain as a product of its time. As a spy thriller, though, the novel is something of a let-down for other reasons, which may well be why Deighton abandoned his Palmer character at this point. Indeed, it seems as though he has already, because almost all the quirkiness which marks the earlier novels is by now missing. By comparison with the earlier writing, it fails to be more than a run of the mill spy thriller. While still of the opinion that this is Deighton's poorest novel, it doesn't seem as bad this time around as I remember it (the computer plays a smaller part than I recalled, which may be part of the reason that this is the case). Nevertheless, it is still at least as good as its forgotten contemporaries - of which it would probably have been one without Deighton's name attached.

Tuesday 20 January 2004

Margaret Atwood: Oryx and Crake (2003)

Edition: Bloomsbury, 2003
Review number: 1213

After fifteen years, Margaret Atwood has returned not only to science fiction, but also to post apocalyptic science fiction (The Blind Assassin has in the meantime included some science fiction elements. Like Offred in The Handmaid's Tale, the narrator of Oryx and Crake (The Snowman) contrasts life after a catastrophe with life before it. But in this case the change is much more apocalyptic than the fundamentalist revolution in Atwood's earlier novel - genetically manipulated plagues have destroyed the human race except for the Snowman and a tribe of innocents, post-humans engineered to live in closer harmony with the natural world (itself now home to escaped genetic experiments - enhanced pets, watchdogs and the pigoons designed as living organ banks for use in transplants).

The world before the catastrophe is not particularly pleasant, either; it is an exaggeratedly sordid version of the present day, rather like the backgrounds to John Brunner's wonderful dystopias, though not to my mind as well done. (It is an example of how much a ghetto a genre can be that Oryx and Crake is short listed for major literary awards while Brunner received no real recognition outside the genre for his major novels.) The pre-apocalyptic stuff is more interesting than the contaminated Eden that comes after it, and there is a lot more of it in the novel.

In The Handmaid's Tale part of the impact was due to the contrast between the normal life of Offred before the fundamentalist coup and the slavery she endures afterwards. By using both of The Snowman's futures (before and after the catastrophe) here as commentaries on the trends apparent in current society, the impact of both is diminished. The isolation of the Snowman and his exclusion from the utopian society of the Children of Crake (the bio-engineered noble savages - the implication being that the only way to achieve Rousseau's influential ideal is by making major changes to human biology) also diminishes the impact of the novel, though it makes possible a connection between the character and the role of the snake in the Eden story. The allusiveness of Oryx and Crake, or at least the way its allusions are handled, reduces its power as a science fiction novel. The Handmaid's Tale also benefits in comparison by having a scenario which remains rare in the genre; that of Oryx and Crake is much more a mirror of fairly obvious current concerns about issues of genetic engineering.

The ending - the description of the catastrophe itself - works well, though the main surprise will have been worked out long before by anyone who has wondered why the Snowman has turned out to be immune to the plague. The character of the Snowman is the key one in the novel, as that of Offred is to The Handmaid's Tale; but he is really too passive for the reader to identify with him. All in all, not as good as her earlier science fiction, but still of interest.

Thursday 15 January 2004

Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

Edition: Del Rey, 1984
Review number: 1212

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is of course best known as the source of the film Bladerunner. It is really only one strand of the plot which was used in the screenplay, however; there is much more in even this short a novel. (The sequels, by K. W. Jeter, are much more following on from the film than the book, as is clear from the use of the word "replicant" rather than "android".)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a science fiction classic in its own right, though I would not consider it Dick's greatest work (my candidate for this would be The Man in the High Castle). It is also something of a catalogue of Dick's major preoccupations (how to define humanity, mystical experience, perception and reality), and thus is one of the best first reads for a reader new to the author. (I have thought that The Man in the High Castle is better, because it has less science fiction baggage, but that makes it less typical.)

The background the novel is a future in which androids are used in human colonies on Mars and Venus, but are not permitted unlicensed on Earth. They have a tendency to escape from their menial jobs and travel to Earth pretending to be humans; each police force therefore has bounty hunters who track these escapees down. (This is an unlikely scenario, as it would surely be far easier to police the space travel, performing checks on Mars or Venus to prevent android access to ships.) Rick Deckard is a San Francisco bounty hunter, and the story is about how he tracks down a group of new androids, of a type designed to be more human than ever.

The plot in the previous paragraph is the basis for the film, but Bladerunner is far more a thriller (albeit an atmospheric one) than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The key issue in the novel is empathy for the suffering of others. It is touted as the key difference between humans and androids, and forms the basis for the tests Dekard uses to determine whether someone is human or android - they should differ in their responses to questions about cruelty to animals. The androids are also unable to take part in the dominant religious movement on Earth, Mercerism, which is about sharing the sufferings of an elderly man being pelted with stones as he climbs a hill to the extent of sharing his wounds, like Christian mystics receiving stigmata. An important part of Mercerism is the necessity to demonstrate empathy by caring for animals, which is why all the humans are desperate to own pets (real animals are rare and expensive because of radiation contamination). They are so keen to do this that those who can't afford the real thing buy robotic replicas, hence the novel's title.

Empathy is also the basis for the ethical irony behind the novel - is someone who destroys those lacking in empathy himself necessarily lacking in empathy, especially as they appear in every other way to be normal people. In this society, there are two classes of individuals excluded from empathic feelings, the androids, and the specials, those harmed by radiation who now form an underclass of vagrants and cheap labour. (A further irony is that the character in the book that readers are meant to empathise with is not Dekard but a special named J.R. Isidore.)

The greatness of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? really springs from the way that Dick creates sympathy for the androids and Isidore. (This is of course yet another irony - demonstrating the humanness of the reader via a similar test to those used to detect androids in the novel.) The novel has a melancholy air to it - everyone, readers and characters, has a pretty good idea of what is going to happen, and none of the really want it to go ahead. It is only a short book, and it is one of the absolute must reads of the science fiction genre.

Wednesday 14 January 2004

C. P. Snow: The Light and the Dark (1947)

Edition: House of Stratus, 2000 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1211

Though the Strangers and Brothers sequence as a whole is basically a semi-autobiographical narrative describing one man's life in England in the middle third or so of the twentieth century, here the focus of attention is not narrator Lewis Eliot himself but a younger friend. The Light and the Dark is set during about a decade starting in the early thirties, just after Lewis Eliot has been elected a Fellow of a minor Cambridge college. There, he befriends Roy Calvert, a brilliant linguist but a manic depressive. The story of their enduring friendship is set first against the background of academic politics and then administrative work in London during the Second World War. The title doesn't just refer to Calvert's moods, of course, but to the gathering clouds of the coming war; the novel contains a fair amount of the intellectual conversation about Fascism and Communism recorded more centrally in Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point. (Many of the chapter headings also reflect the title, being full of references to light or to times of day.) Eliot spends the novel worrying about Calvert - what he might do to himself when down, how he could alienate others when up.

Like all of Snow's novels, The Light and the Dark is concerned mainly with relationships between men, particularly the small scale politics of the (still single sex) Oxbridge college. There are female characters in the novel, mainly there to provide some love interest for Calvert (Eliot is married, but his wife plays no part in the novel except for the occasional passing reference). Within its limits, though, the writing is superb. You get the feeling that Snow hits his stride once he can begin writing about the human interactions behind committee meetings, and even to someone like myself who hates them, he makes them fascinating.

Friday 9 January 2004

Lawrence Durrell: Nunquam (1970)

Edition: Faber & Faber, 1971 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1210

The completion of The Revolt of Aphrodite begins, like its predecessor Tunc, with a section which is poetic and hard to read. Yet its purpose is the opposite; Tunc is intended to lure the reader with mystification while Nunquam illuminates what was previously obscure. So here the difficult prose has a rationale which is soon revealed to the reader: it is a kind of journal written by Felix Charlock (the narrator of both novels) while he is being treated in a mental hospital after killing his own son believing the boy to the the fruit of his wife's suspected infidelity with the mysterious Julian.

The sort of revealing detail that Durrell includes in Nunquam is exemplified by the moment when the narrator describes writing "Felix amat Benedicta", and the reader suddenly realises that this is not just a pretentious way for him to express his love for his wife but also a pointer to an allegorical role for these two characters, as it reminds him/her that their names mean "happy" and "blessed". It didn't occur to me to think of the characters in this way until this point (though arguably it should have done), and this it was a sentence which transformed my understanding of both novels. The two characters are unusual allegorical figures, of course, because their experiences and natures leave them in an almost permanent state of seeming neither happy nor blessed. The Revolt of Aphrodite is revealed to be a sardonic, cynical, symbolic drama.

The plot of Nunquam, once Felix is judged cured and able to return to his work for Merlin, is basically a retelling of Frankenstein. Felix's former lover, the film star Iolanthe, is dead, but Merlin decides to use her as a prototype in a project to create a mechanical being, aiming to recreate her appearance, memories and personality. This part of the story also clearly fits into some kind of symbolic and satirical picture of modern society, even if its precise meaning is not so clear. (The purpose of this section is more obviously satirical than most of the rest of the pair of novels, though the whole is about the emptiness of modern capitalism.) Durrell uses his update of the Frankenstein story to paint a pretty negative view of science; for example, Felix imagines the laboratory complex as looking rather like Belsen, and its name evokes the idea that the engineers are just playing (their motivation for recreating Iolanthe is indeed quite vague).

There was still a lot I didn't fully understand about The Revolt of Aphrodite (for three reasons: some things are deliberately left obscure; others will become clear only on a second or third reading; and others require background I do not have, particularly of Spengler's Decline of the West on which the novels are a commentary in fictional form). Nevertheless, Tunc and Nunquam have both had a deep effect on me, and are going to remain with me for a long time.

Tuesday 6 January 2004

Len Deighton: Funeral in Berlin (1964)

Edition: Penguin, 1966 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1209

Because it is the main focus of the Bernard Samson novels, Berlin might appear to be something of an obsession with Deighton. It actually features remarkably rarely in his other novels, particularly considering its unique position during the Cold War as a bastion of the West surrounded by the Soviet bloc. It does, however, feature heavily in the third Harry Palmer novel, as the title obviously indicates.

The plot of Funeral in Berlin is apparently the mirror image of The Ipcress File, with Palmer trying to arrange the reception for a Russian scientist defecting via West Berlin. But it soon becomes obvious that this isn't quite what is going on - why, for example, are those involved so insistent that the scientist's fake papers should be in a particular name when any would do for what they are claiming to want them for?

The whole of this novel, like Deighton's first two, revolves around things not being quite what they seem, right up to the ending with its particularly surprising revelations. (This was not the first time I'd read the novel; I'd forgotten the details but remembered the gist - and still found it exciting.) Deighton's novels do tend to be designed around this kind of misdirection, and it is of course a style particularly appropriate to the spy novel.

The setting of Berlin is atmospheric, more because it is full of nervous, posturing tough guys (both would-be and really tough); the descriptions are not as fully developed as they became in later years when Deighton's novels increased in length (Funeral in Berlin is less than half as long than Berlin Game, for instance). The most sympathetic character, as far as Palmer is concerned, is a Russian KGB colonel; for him, the distinction in the espionage business is between professionals and amateurs, rather than between friends and enemies.

The world of the spy as documented by Deighton continued to be a male dominated one through his entire career, and in fact never completely loses the old boy network feel that Palmer is so cynical about in The Ipcress file (Bernard Samson complains about this twenty years later on). Here, the two female characters are good looking young women, one Palmer's secretary and lover who does most of the routine work assigned to him, and the other a rather naive agent for some other power, whose seduction of Palmer seems to have slipped out of a James Bond story. Having mentioned Ian Fleming's famous spy in this context, though, I should point out that Deighton has moved on from Fleming's insistent misogyny. (Palmer is a much brighter but less flamboyant character than Bond, too.)

Apart from The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin is the best of the Harry Palmer novels, sharing its best quality - an ability to surprise even after all these years.

Iain Banks: The Crow Road (1992)

Edition: Abacus, 1993
Review number: 1208

The Crow Road must be Iain Banks' best known novel, if only because it is the only one to have been turned into a TV series (so far). (The novel is one of my favourites, but I found the adaptation unwatchable.) It is set in Scotland, in a small town north of Glasgow, somewhere I suspect is not too far from the location of The Wasp Factory. The narrator of most of the novel is a teenager from a rather unusual family (not just in their personalities, though having an uncle with his own personal religion is a bit on the strange side; the McHoans tend to die in odd ways). The Crow Road is basically Iain Banks' take on the coming of age novel; not the first time he has written one (The Wasp Factory is an extremely grotesque story of this type), but the novel of his which best fits into this category.

As such, The Crow Road (a Scots expression for death) centres around the character of Prentice McHoan. He is obviously quite bright, but his major character traits are that he is unobservant and stubborn, which makes him disastrous at relationships. The best example of this (apart from the ending) is how he reacts when he discovers that his brother is the new boyfriend of the girl he has worshipped silently from afar for years.

A large part of Prentice's growing up is his coming to an understanding of his parents generation; he becomes obsessed with some papers left behind by his uncle Rory, who vanished mysteriously several years earlier. This becomes particularly important to Prentice after his father's death (a militant atheist, he is struck by lightning climbing a church tower lightning rod, defying God to prove his existence).

Why is The Crow Road one of my favourite novels? For one thing, it is Banks' funniest. Most of his novels have a humorous side, mainly of a rather dark and macabre nature. Here there is more mainstream humour, though the grotesquerie is still present if in more muted form (the death of Prentice's father being one example, and the explosion of his grandmother at the start of the novel another).

At the same time, there is a mystery (what did happen to uncle Rory?), a believable coming of age story, a first person narrative which exposes the character of the narrator, and a celebration of Scotland. The Crow Road is a truly wonderful and life enriching novel.

Thursday 1 January 2004

Michael Moorcock: The Winds of Limbo (1965)

Edition: Mayflower, 1965 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1207

Early Moorcock is usually interesting, but less individual and more straightforward than his later writing. The Winds of Limbo is no exception. It is set in a huge underground city of the future, underneath what is now Switzerland (possibly not somewhere ideally suited to such a construction), a background which is reminiscent of Isaac Asimov's Trantor if on a smaller scale. The city is capital of the solar system, a class-ridden rigid state, clearly meant to be a satire on early sixties Britain. The sudden appearance of a charismatic anarchist demagogue, the Fireclown, shakes the status quo until those in power decide that they should go to any lengths to stop him gaining more influence.

The plot seems as though it will be typical of left wing anti-establishment science fiction, with an idealistic young couple on hand to expose the government's machinations, allowing the Fireclown to sweep to power and turn out not to be as dangerous as everybody expected. However, the last bit does not happen; the Fireclown is far too nihilistic to be interested in taking over the state. He doesn't just criticise the bureaucratic rigidity of the world and its class system; he opposes the very idea of human society and even the existence of intelligence itself. This makes the heart of The Winds of Limbo interestingly different, and foreshadows some of Moorcock's later ideas about conflict between Law and Chaos, but it does mean that the ending of the novel fizzles out in an anti-climactic and unresolved manner which may be more likely but is less satisfying to read.

Like, say, The Rituals of Infinity, The Winds of Limbo shows signs of inexperience; Moorcock was at this time clearly someone who had lots of ideas he wanted to get down quickly. The background is sketchy, lacking detail - the lower classes, for example, are a stereotypical mass of easily lead uneducated labourers, which means that the reader is left feeling that they are being told that there is class conflict without really feeling that it affects anyone. Even though one of the main characters is not from the top bracket, being considered inferior to the woman he loves, he is still distinctly privileged. He is the grandson of a senior politician but of illegitimate birth because his grandfather refused to let his mother marry out of her class. This makes him an outsider of the whole class system, and this position could have been exploited more cleverly to tell us about this future society and its tensions.

The shallowness of the background - a problem Moorcock quickly learned how to overcome - also lies at the core of other problems that The Winds of Limbo has. It weakens the satire; although class is obviously the target, it remains unclear exactly what Moorcock wants to say about it (other than that it is a bad thing). By 1965, far more penetrating and effective satire had made its impact. The Fireclown's nihilism was either not really the answer Moorcock saw to society's problems, or it was one he lacked the conviction to ram home (it may also of course have been his publisher who required the novel be toned down). The novel reads like the vague ideas of a left wing middle class intellectual, not something inspired by real knowledge of the life of the labouring classes.

The Winds of Limbo is an interesting and frustrating novel; so much more could have been made of the ideas it contains.