Sunday, 3 June 2007

Holiday Reading 4: William Sansom

In 1951 Graham Greene’s lover and muse, Catherine Walston, gave him a copy of The Face of Innocence by William Sansom (1912 –1976) "because there is nothing else to give you". Not sure what to make of that remark. Sansom is a writer whom I’d not come across before, and so picking this book up at random I had no idea what to expect. Later, I discovered that there is very little about him on the Internet, although in his day he was highly regarded by other writers such as Eudora Welty, Henry Green and Graham Greene himself. I think he’s what it described as ‘a writers’ writer’, with a very conscious use of language, sometimes a little too clever and self-regarding, which can be a distraction to the reader. His obvious enjoyment of language leads him sometimes to make up his own verbs, which makes him quite fun to read.

The plot revolves round the relationship of two men with a woman called, portentously, Eve. She marries and deceives one of them, while using the other one, who is infatuated with her, as her confident. The big question implied in the ironical title is: whose is the face of innocence? Not Eve, surely, who is highly manipulative and whose motives ultimately remain dark. In fact, her character, central to the whole narrative, is problematical – I was never really convinced by her.

During World War II, Sansom, like Henry Green, was a fireman with the National Fire Service, combatting infernos created by German bombing attacks on England – in fact he may have been a colleague in the service. This experience became one of the major themes of his early works, such as Fireman Flower, and Other Stories. His descriptions of London and London life, in novels and stories set there, became one of the hallmarks of his work.

There’s a good review here:

No comments: