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Book Notes

Oliver Onions
The Tower of Oblivion (1921)

from Vanamonde #613 (2005)

Indeed a jewel, for which I'm much indebted to [Winnipeg fan] Chester Cuthbert's recommendation. The narrator is a novelist who says of himself, "the worldly success of Sir George Coverham, Knight, has been that author's rigid exclusion from his books of everything that does not commend itself to the average common sense of his fellow-beings.... the most he seeks is a line somewhere between ordinary experience and the most, rather than the least, attractive presentation of it.... his books are polite, debonair, and deliberately planned so as not to shock anybody.... because of my own indefatigability in talking about talk ... they made me a Knight" (pp. 17, 25): see how neatly Onions shows us that the man's mind is just what the story requires of it.

Sir George discovers another writer, Derwent Rose, ten years his junior at 45, after a succes d'estime with the "mortal and inhuman irony of The Vicarage of Bray, the vehement and unchecked passion of An Ape in Hell.... [in] his last published book, The Hands of Esau ... a fundamental urbanity, a mellower restraint" (p. 3), aging backwards. During six months Rose has, "in irregular and unequal slips ... retrograded [to] thirty-five" (p. 24), which continuing is the action of the book. Onions having established that this phenomenon is real, not illusory, which he confirms from time to time with flawless touches, the story is of how it takes Rose and the people he meets. Three women fall in love with him; Sir George falls in love with one of them; or so they say. The speculation of the book is upon vigor, beauty, character, duty, personality, love, and art, but all that is by the way; so is the masterly plot — the title is understood three-quarters in, like Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon; science fiction is about people. Some of the people are alien.