Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Book review: The Snow Goose

Book review: The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico (1897-1976)
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1960
58 pages

Paul Gallico is an author I need to get to know better. The Snow Goose is my first attempt.

This justly famous short story is surprisingly simple in its construction and densely emotional in its impact. There are familiar plot elements: ugly old man meets beautiful young girl, they develop a close relationship. In some ways one is moved to think of Silas Marner—there are both rich and rigid qualities in their love, never consummated, sharply constrained.

The snow goose imagery is a tiny bit awkward. Gallico uses the obviously proper word pinion repeatedly and not always, apparently, with the same definition in mind, but this is quibbling…despite Philip Rhayader's intimate knowledge of the birds he paints, we're not offered a compelling total image of the bird, what does a snow goose really look like?

The eroticism of Rhayader's relationship with the girl, Fritha, is bursting out of the story repeatedly before the final scenes. It's like the sensual heat of Girl With A Pearl Earring, deeply heartfelt and almost completely unexpressed. Vermeer painted the girl from life; Rhayader painted his girl from memory, a symbolic reflection of his restrained character and the repressed relationship.

The story line of Snow Goose is mostly mundane, Gallico easily sustains a dramatic tension, although the Dunkirk evacuation scenes are almost disembodied, almost a charade with the forced Cockney accents dominating the dialog.

Snow Goose is eminently poetic, the ending that every reader can anticipate occurs with realistic sadness and realistic revelation. Fritha feels the words in her heart: "Philip, I love 'ee." 

The long-patient reader is finally released to wordless exultation.
Among other treatments, this beautiful short story was transformed to film (television) in 1971 by the BBC and shown on the Hallmark Hall of Fame, with Richard Harris as Rhayader and Jenny Agutter as Fritha. See it in five installments on YouTube here.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

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