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This review is taken from PN Review 79, Volume 17 Number 5, May - June 1991.

SEE FOOTNOTE Selected Prose of Louis MacNeice, edited by Alan Heuser (OUP) £25

The artist's paradox, MacNeice suggests in one of his essays, is that while he is dealing in profundities, he must look to his surfaces: craftsmanship is what counts. Although this collection touches on some profound themes - the nature of the religious division in Ireland, how people cope with war, what constitutes a just society or a good life, what nationality means (especially when defined in crisis) - MacNeice, as so often, is most memorable in his love of surfaces. The Irish light on ploughed fields, the gloom of a rectory, a French/Hindu palace on the Ganges, the different kinds of flame and smoke after the air raids in London, school decorations in Barcelona during the Civil War - these are the prose notations closest to his poetry, and immediately evocative.

Indeed it is striking how closely the contours of this book - arranged chronologically - follow the poetry in quality as well as theme. The section for 1937-9, for instance, happily includes chapters from his out-of-print books Zoo and I Crossed the Minch - good parodies from the latter, and from the former one of the autobiographical explorations of Ireland that punctuate this book as they do his poetry. In the prose MacNeice's anger is less evident, as he tries to assess the impact of both north and south in a spirit of deliberate detachment from childhood myths and nightmares. The ingredients of the poetry are present, though, together with that wariness of political alignment and ...

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