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AN INTERESTING PATTERN LATER DISCARDED,
This review is from: George Passant (Strangers and Brothers) (Paperback)
The early books in C.P.Snow's sequence of novels, Strangers and Brothers, follow a pattern not to be followed in the later books in the series. Having got the first book, Time of Hope, about the younger days of our protagonist and his early friends out of the way, Snow sets out on an interesting course to illuminate the social history of this country in the decade or so leading up to the Second World War. He does so by focusing on a succession of leading characters, one to each book, but always sees them through the eyes of the protagonist of the whole series, Lewis Eliot.
In this case it is George Passant, a charismatic, free-thinking radical who becomes a beacon to and a leader - many in the community would say a misleader - of local youth. The strength of Snow's characterisation of Passant lies in its multi-dimensional portrayal. Charismatic he may be. But he is also flawed. He is a womaniser. He himself is too easily misled - and this leads him into such serious trouble that he finds himself in the dock, charged with fraud. This provides the main thrust of the plot in the latter half of the book as Eliot, a newly qualified barrister, finds himself called upon to organise the defence of George and his friends. But there is a deeper, more fundamental flaw in George's character. For all his qualities of leadership, his own life is lonely, bitter and frustratingly unfulfilled. Despite his theories of political and sexual freedom, he is an underachiever. As the later books go on to prove, he never escapes his innate provincialism, serving out his entire career as a clerk in a local solicitor's office, but for a brief Wartime spell in the civil service, arranged for him by Eliot.
It is the deep insight and perception of Snow's characterisation throughout this sequence of novels that is his great strength. The pattern he established in this and the two subsequent books in the series (but then discarded) of using one person to stand for a whole section of society and reflect the state of this country in that period is interesting. Particularly as it is held together by the device of seeing it all through the constant thread of the perceptive eyes of his semi-autobiographical narrator. But these books would not merit our attention if his characters had remained as mere ciphers. It is their complexity, their fully rounded humanity as real human beings that makes Strangers and Brothers still eminently readable today.