Saturday, January 25, 2014

The First Trilogy

The First Trilogy by Joyce Cary gets too little attention. It is one of those great works that never quite made it into the classics canon, and so it is not one of Those Books that people know by name and a sense of shame that they are less refined or educated for not having read War & Peace or To Kill a Mockingbird.

The three books of the trilogy: Herself Surprised, The Horse's Mouth, & To Be a Pilgrim, provide three views of events shared by the three. Not shared in the rakish sense of three views of a zombie apocalypse, but in the tellings of three lives whose characters crossed paths in critically important ways.

The Horse's Mouth is the tour de force. Alec Guinness starred in and wrote the screenplay for a movie version. It's a fun film but the book transcends it in the way a book written by a deft lover of language can only surpass mere cinematography with its moving images and recorded dialog. It contains passages of prose as ecstatic in their way as that of Nabokov or Updike, if brusque.

Herself Surprised is the heart of the trilogy. Sara Monday, its heroine, is something of a middle-aged servant class Huckleberry Finn of the first half of England's 20th century.

To Be a Pilgrim is the reflective soul of the book, memoirs written by an ailing old man. It's delights are quieter but most poignant of all.

These books are far from ignored. They are regarded as masterpieces and enjoy regular reprints. But the pleasure they provide is classical.

Begin with The Horse's Mouth for a flamboyant introduction, follow with Herself Surprised, finish with To Be a Pilgrim. I am sure you will be pleased.

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