Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Point Counter Point

From Reid's Reader:
Point Counter Point is a series of conversations and a series of attempted or achieved seductions. It is a clash of intellectual “types”, like one of those witty conversation pieces (disguised as short novels) which Thomas Love Peacock produced a century before Huxley. (In an acute essay written in 2003, Clive James suggested that Huxley in effect created “orations” from each of his leading characters rather than conversations, padding out the novel’s length when he had a four-novel contract to fulfil.) Mark Rampion’s honest and healthy sensuality is set against Philip Quarles’ intellectualism, which is set against Everard Webley’s muscular brutalism, which is set against Maurice Spandrell’s dualism, which is set against Denis Burlap’s self-interested version of Christianity etc. etc.
I would be an ungrateful swine if I did not admit that much of this is very entertaining and all of it is written in that clear and readable prose that was one of Huxley’s greatest skills. One must acknowledge, however, that with all the chitter-chatter, the sum effect is like intellectual soap-opera or highbrow gossip.
Because you may not have read Point Counter Point, I will not reveal how it is all wrapped up in the last 100 pages, where “plot” intervenes. There are a couple of major domestic problems for Philip Quarles, one of which forces him and his wife Elinor to reassess their values. The way the plots involving the Fascistic Everard Webley and the dualistic Maurice Spandrell resolve themselves involve great violence. On the other hand, our last glimpse of the complacent faux-Christian Denis Burlap is purely farcical. And cynical. Having just signed a very lucrative contract, and having got rid of one mistress who was becoming a nuisance, Burlap is glimpsed on the last page frolicking naked in the bath with his new mistress. Huxley’s punch-line is “Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven”, which is the same sort of snappy zinger as the “Hot dog!” that concludes Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead.
Before we can say anything else about Point Counter Point, there is one obvious thing that has to be said. It is, beyond all dispute, a roman a clef. Most of the leading characters are very clearly based on people Huxley knew or had read about. (Read more.)

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