Anthony C(athcart Muir) West Biography
Anthony C. West comments:
Nationality: Irish. Born: County Down, Northern Ireland, 1910. Military Service: Served in the Royal Air Force Pathfinder Force during World War II: air observer and navigator bomber. Awards: Atlantic award, 1946.
The Native Moment. New York, McDowell Obolensky, 1959; London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1961.
Rebel to Judgment. New York, Obolensky, 1962.
The Ferret Fancier. London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1963; New York, Simon and Schuster, 1965.
As Towns with Fire. London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1968; New York, Knopf, 1970.
River's End and Other Stories. New York, McDowell Obolensky, 1958; London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1960.
All the King's Horses and Other Stories. Dublin, Poolbeg Press, 1981.
Forces and Themes in Ulster Fiction by John Wilson Foster, Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1974; Celtic, Christian, Socialist: The Novels of Anthony C. West by Audrey S. Eyler, Rutherford, New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1993.
I have a creative and an a-political interest in the human condition, wherever and however it may be found, with the incorrigible hope for social harmony and world tolerance.
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The fiction of Anthony C. West is filled with poignant and great tenderness, yet it is not just lyric. The main characters of his novels are all very much attuned to nature, yet in the world if not entirely of it. He handles scenes of childhood well, yet his children grow up. As Towns with Fire, his latest novel, creates a focus, almost a culmination, for The Native Moment and The Ferret Fancier.
As Towns with Fire is the portrait of a man and a war. Beginning New Year's Eve, 1939, it traces the experiences of Christopher MacMannan, an Irishman who has settled in London to train himself as a writer, to the day of his discharge from the R.A.F. after the war has ended. During this time he has done odd jobs and worked with the A.R.P., married, had two children, gone to Belfast where he suffered employment, unemployment, and air raids, joined the Air Force, and flown many missions as observer in Mosquitoes.
There is almost too much in this book, but all of it is good. The war scenes are vivid and suspenseful. There is a charming lyric episode when MacMannan camps out in the hills of Northern Ireland. There is mystery in that, although a long flashback traces his childhood in detail, his history stops when he leaves school; however, references throughout the story imply that between then and the beginning of the story proper, he had traveled widely and saved enough money for a free year in London, at the same time maturing without losing the sensitivity he had as a child. He refuses to submit his poetry for publication until it reaches some form of perfection known only to him. There is some sort of symbolism in his efforts to protect little ducks from the cruelty of thoughtless children.
A similar affinity with nature is in The Native Moment, an account of the day Simon Green goes to Dublin with a live eel in a pail; because London sales have dropped off, he is seeking an Irish market for the eels that abound in the northern lakes. He gets drunk, sleeps with a prostitute, is disappointed in a meeting with an old friend, and resolves to marry a girl made pregnant by her uncle. Yet so long as he can keep the eel alive, changing its water regularly he survives his crises. The Ferret Fancier is a pastoral in which the same kind of sensitive character is given a ferret as a pet when a child.
West has been compared with Joyce and Beckett, and if one does not seek word play or the broadly comic, it is possible to see the comparison. But in his feeling for nature, for the persons and places of the Irish countryside, he adds another ingredient. For all of their accomplishments this century, Irish writers have tended to be parochially Irish, or write mainly of urban settings or rural settings, but rarely both. West has broken through this barrier.
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