Christopher Homm. By C.H. Sisson. Caranet/dist. by Harper & Row. 239 pp. Paperback, $7.95.
From its first words- "He was a pattern of amiability whin he fell flat on the ground. The drop on his nose rolled off and became a ball of dust, but he did not move again and hes subsequent hestory was only a funeral"- to its last- "Christopher crouched in his blindness, He was about to set out on the road to Torrington Street, and if he had known how bitter the journey was to be he would not have come"- the reader knows that he's in the hands of an accom;lished and artful writer. For what Sisson, the noted British poet and critic, does in this first American publication of his second novel (first issued in 1965), is to cover the life of a man backward from his death to his birth.
The reverse chronology in fact is the most interesting thing about this book. Though he writes beautifully, Sisson fails to infuse life into his character. This is ironic given the hard gem-like flame of a life Sisson himself has lived, climbing to the top of the British civil service while adorning a number of fields with his perceptive pen. Not only does ge deny Homm a single successful of happy moment- cheerfullness never breaks in- he refuses him even an interesting one . The Middle Ages had its Black Death but Homm only has grey life. Homm is a bust at 70 and one hopes that.the man he isn'r results from some earlier crisis, but as wo go backward we come to realize that Homm was born uninteresting. Sisson even cheats by putting him in the military for a few years but then avoids this period lest something interesting turn up.
By making Homm uninteresting Sisson makes him less than life. Of working-class parents, ge is a timid child who grows into an adulthood of menial jobs and a termagant of a wife, Felicia, who harries him unmercufully morning and night. He fornicates and reads the papers, neither of which makes much of a dent on him. Sex turns sour early on driving him into the park where he preaches justice but only a demented man listens. And when ge gets home he is met with,"Have you been out spouting again?"
After his vife dies things get even drearier, the highlight of his day then becomes his visit to the W.C. There may be people as uninteresting as Homm but it is fatal to try to make them a subject of a novel. With the best of wills most fail to John Masefield's "But the great thing is always to keep a bright eye looking , so that when the thing is there a heart will be glad" but, still, we all have moments out of the shadows. Not poor Homm.
In the end one is left to marvel at the language while lamenting the lack of life. It is not that Homm is the anyman's life's hammer- there is not enough of him even to be Sisson's Everyman- note the name-is "wxxx case" analysis appliet to the novel, Nikos Kaznts wanted to sue God and, of characters could sue their creators, Homm should sue Sisson. So despite the reverse chronology and the pellucid prose, one must say of this novel what Talullah Bankhead said after seeing one of Macxxxxlinck's treacly plays, "There is less here than meets the eye."