Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Survival of the Fittest

I took time out from Drood (which has become increasingly terrifiying) to peruse another Pamela Hansford Johnson.

The Survival of the Fittest is a long, ambitious, sprawling novel which chronicles the relationships of a leftist group of friends from their youth in the 1930s through middle age in the 1960s. This is a remarkably earnest novel for Johnson, who doesn’t usually go in for epics. The Survival of the Fittest unknots the intertwined threads of leftist politics, history, love, and literature which link the group. The friends consists of a mixture of intelligent upwardly-mobile lower-middle-class workers and leftist aristocrats who, in the early days, denigrate or denounce their origins. Their coming of age in the wilds of the shadow of World War II marks them and sets them apart from subsequent generations. But in the time of crisis, literature unites the group: the unassuming, kind, stable Alison and the hard-drinking, mercurial Kit rise from anonymity to become successful, well-reviewed novelists; Clem is a well-known political journalist who analyzes the war; Bobby writes communist novels heavily edited by his publisher; and Jo publishes only one short story. All, both writers and non-writers, attempt to help the aspiring writer Jo, who cannot escape his childhood home because he and his sister Mildred, a teacher, must care for their domineering, crippled mother. And friendship means the most to him, since he does not form new familial bonds. This makes him the central figure of the group, as his home situation is static over the decades.

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