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The Thirty-First of February

Page history last edited by Jon 14 years, 9 months ago

Symons, Julian -- The Thirty-First of February (1950)




One of Symons’s strongest expressions of his belief that in modern, post-WWII society, reason and order are impossible.  The protagonist, Anderson, loses faith in reason and goes mad; order is represented by Inspector Cresse, who persecutes Anderson.  The novel is at once an account of Anderson’s nervous breakdown ending in insanity, and a phantasmagoria in the manner of Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, a philosophical nightmare, or the Innes of The Daffodil Affair, turned to much darker ends—via Greene’s Ministry of Fear?  Full of surreal, almost abstract imagery—the detective story as seen by Magritte (pipes, Homburgs) or Kandinsky (colour).  The plot also contributes to Symons’s deconstruction of the detective story: the policeman is menace, not saviour, and builds his case on a clue which is accidental and misleading (the matchstick)—similar to A Man Called Jones.  (Also follows the Berkeley model of the wrong solution followed by the right one.)


Themes: dissociation of identity; alienation; attempts to impose meaning and order on life; order and disorder.


·        Halfway between Francis Iles (psychological, seen entirely from POV of man involved in case of sudden death, with ironic twist at end) and Michael Innes (fantastic, surreal, imaginative, dreamlike phantasmagoria).

·        Office story in tradition of Blake’s Minute for Murder.

·        Description of party: The Gigantic Shadow.


Nick Fuller.


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