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THE author of "One Light Burning" cannot be neatly pigeonholed as a follower of a particular school. He writes in his own way, with his own aims, and the result is one of the most absorbing novels of the year.
Throughout the novel there is a powerful surge of adventure. From the opening, when the Irish Sandy Brissaut and his English wife, Getra, flee from the police by sea, to the concluding chapters concerning Andrew's and his companions' return from the bleak Russian steppes, a swift current of happenings bears the characters on swiftly, and at times, inexorably.
Each character, Andrew, Greta, Sandy, and the others, has his goal, his "light burning" often in the shadowy realms of imagination. It is because the author does not crystallize the symbolical meaning, the somewhat ethereal quality of his work, that it is made the more effective. Constantly the reader's imagination is invited to travel along roads only vaguely marked out by the author.
Indeed, "One Light Burning" casts a spell of unreality over its willing reader. Paradoxically enough the spell is made more potent by realistic descriptions of the people and the surroundings. The account of Andrew's expedition wandering in the frozen wastes of Russia in search of a brilliant philosopher, who at times seems to become an illusion, a product of fevered imaginations, and the story of Sandy's slow degeneracy are perhaps unsurpassed by any realistic novelist. But it is the motivation of the characters which makes this novel outstanding.
The writer is open to criticism on the score of not delineating sharply his secondary Characters. He uses Tolstoi's method of gradually filling in personality as the plot unravels and the strand of one character's life crosses and re-crosses that of another. In this he is not uniformly successful. But his drawing of Andrew, a complete individual who slowly falls in love with Greta, the wife of the rough, romantic Sandy, and his picture of Sandy himself are full-bodied and living.
"One Light Burning" has none of the brittle, blatant sophistication of the tearoom. Rather it has a truer sophistication that is the result of the author's observation and sensitivity. It is a vigorous yet fanciful novel, with vivid, life-sized characters, ideally suited, with its chilling descriptions of frozen lands, for summer perusal.
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