Boston: Black Sparrow/David R. Godine, $23.95, 152 pp.
Isobel English (1920-94) had a brief but distinguished literary career that established her as a highly original stylist. From 1954 to 1973, this British writer published three novels and a collection of stories. Several of her stories first appeared in Commonweal. English’s work has long been out of print, but now her second novel, Every Eye-a wonderfully idiosyncratic, compressed exploration of identity, vision, and will-has been reissued. The reprint, a small handsome volume with a delightful introduction by her husband, the late Neville Braybrooke, is a welcome literary reincarnation.
“Isobel English” is a pseudonym. Born June Jolliffe, English was a sickly child, educated from the age of eight at a Catholic convent. At sixteen, she asked her parents’ permission to convert to the faith in which she had been educated. Permission denied by her Protestant parents, she did not convert until a few weeks before her second marriage, when she became June Braybrooke. Neville Braybrooke, a frequent Commonweal contributor, writes that she did not like the term “Catholic novel,” but there is, he points out, a strong “religious dimension” to her work, an aspect which attracted, among others, Graham Greene and Muriel Spark. Indeed, her style in Every Eye is as elliptical as Spark’s, but her language is far more poetic, her humor softer and sparer.
In alternating sections depicting present and past, the novel...