Wednesday 28 September 2022

Review: Anthony Adverse: The Lonely Twin by Hervey Allen

If the first volume of Anthony Adverse was high on charm but a little loose in structure, and volume two was tighter, more exciting but less charming, then volume three was both looser and less charming. In volume three, Anthony repeats many of the mistakes he made in volume two, he neglects his spiritual side, tries to take too much control over his life. He also learns the same lessons again, but more.. then when he does die, he goes out like a punk. 

The book doesn’t begin with Anthony, who has recently returned from a stint as a slaver in Africa in a more chastened and enlightened mood. It actually begins with Don Luis, his mum’s husband, who murdered his dad and dumped him in an orphanage - not that Anthony knows this. Things have moved on for Don Luis, he’s been consolidating his power in Spain what’s more, his driver, Sancho ‘the Cat’ now has a grown up son called the Kitten. Coming to wrap up his business with Bonnyfeather, he goes to the convent where he dumped Anthony and discovers the child is still alive and, improbably, Bonnyfeather’s heir. It’s here we get another glimpse of a more noble Don Luis, who is struck dumb by the beauty of the bronze boy, Anthony’s childhood friend. This flash of nobility is quickly undermined by the way he cons the statue from the nuns.

He meets the grown Anthony, which rather shocks him, leading to a chapter where Don Luis ponders. There have been rants and reflective pages before in this long, and sometimes very inward-looking novel, but this is the first that just seems like words for their own sake. For thirty (rather dull) pages, Don Luis pours metaphor on metaphor in a confusing jumble. I can’t even work out why he was so surprised to bump into Anthony, seeing as it’s in the town he dumped him in - there’s far less likely meetings to come. Don Luis also meets up with Faith, who is now only being referred to by her surname and we are reminded that she’s evil (somehow.. I don’t feel this has been very well established). Interestingly, Don Luis used the phrase ‘mental health’ in this chapter, which I thought was a newer phrase then that.

When we meet Anthony, he’s folding up the Bonnyfeather business and talking to his friend Vincent Nolte, who introduces the main thrust of the book, a deal to sneak silver out of Mexico and launder it through the United States and back to Europe. Much of the book concerns this deal, in all its complexity. While it does give reasons to move Anthony to France and Britain (where the backers are) to New Orleans (where he manages to the laundering) it is not a very interesting thing to drive the plot. Not only is it complicated, it involves Anthony defrauding numerous people and it’s simply not gripping to wonder if the extraordinarily rich Anthony will become even richer.

Much like the other two books, Anthony doesn’t really suffer from his adversity, He quickly makes the right friends, finds himself in the right place and has the right skills to win through. Unlike the first book, there wasn’t the range of warm and charming settings and unlike the second, there wasn’t the huge internal conflict. Much of the book involves Anthony, in a very comfortable position, talking boring banking stuff with dull people. 

At least, in the journey from Italy to France, there is a villain in the person of Don Luis. He is filled with hatred for the living reminder of his cuckoldry and he becomes something like Wile E Coyote, with an elaborate plan to push Anthony and Vincent’s coach off a ravine in the alps. Luckily, Anthony needs a piss at the right moment and spots the trap early and so offs Don Luis’s coach (the first thing in the books the reader is introduced to) and also The Kitten, who was driving it.

The section in France is the longest in the book. It mostly involves boring banking talk and a number of court-like shenanigans surrounding the figure of Napoleon. He’s an interesting character, a charismatic man who forces his personality on the world around him but also something of a nitwit. It becomes clear, especially in a later section where Anthony goes to Spain, that Allen sees the modernising explosion of Napoleon to have swept something important from the world, for all of its hoped for enlightenment. Angela also happens to be in Paris, she’s a super successful opera singer and she has Anthony’s son from their only time together. There’s a little romance but she decides to dedicate herself to singing, living the kid with Anthony, who loves him very much and reluctantly palms him off on someone else.

Anthony visits England, a place where people are not ‘human beings’ but ‘human havings’ and they hold their lips stiff. Anthony often finds he is “frequently suspected and despised, I find, because my expression sometimes changes.” Then it’s back to France, then off to Spain, for a while in the company of a woman breast-feeding a pig.

A tragedy happens there, Anthony goes off fishing and his coach is attacked and Juan, his loyal servant from the second book is killed. He’s too late to join in the fight despite running “with his trousers on backward and the exhilaration of battle in his heart.” There’s a lot of politicking in Spain as well, including a ball where he is set to dance with an elderly woman who is described as “the horse-faced relict of Don Quixote” and “the angel of constipation”. In this ball, he also meets Dolores, his fancy bit from Cuba.

At last, we all get to New Orleans and Anthony does his thing, meeting all the most useful, friendly and trustful people straight away and making a success of all he does. He even finds himself married, to his first fancy piece Florence, and they have a little girl. New Orleans is an interesting setting but the book doesn’t spend long there as he builds a big house called Silver Ho. It seems he hasn’t learned the lessons from the second book, forcing the world to give him even more wealth and running it all on the back of slaves. When his wife jokingly remarks that the nursery door jams, just as he sets off to a meeting, I expect the house to burn down with them in it, which it does. 

Almost mad with grief, he goes into the wilds with a man called Pierre who blows his head off by trying to light his match with a flintlock pistol and a native American called Moosh-Moosh, who talks like the ‘injuns’ from Peter Pan. Eventually, he goes off alone and there’s a whole daft Robinson Crusoe section where he makes a cosy house. Then he kills and skins a bear, wears the skin, is taken for a God and imprisoned as a bear-God by a bunch of native Americans for three months - it seems that Allen has lost the plot for a bit and anything goes.

Through very unlikely circumstances he is captured by Spanish soldiers - his dog kills Sancho ‘the Cat’ and he is taken to Don Luis, who is governor of that area. Don Luis dies of a stroke but not before condemning him to a leper hospital/ mad house. Anthony makes the journey as a prisoner with a bunch of other prisoners and, in doing so, he finally discovers the joy he saw in Father Fran├žois. The hospital is probably the most interesting setting in this volume. It was started as a church but converted to prison/hospital, the statues with bodies but without faces. There are lepers playing guitar by a hand without enough fingers”. 

Alas, this the shortest chapter in the book, Dolores visits the hospital, gets him out and the two of the escape their respective fortunes and live a quiet life on a mountain where they raise two children. Thus, we follow Anthony to his death… and it’s the most embarrassing death anyone could have. The wife and kids go to a birthday party and he decides to cut a tree down. It just so happens that the tree has a stone in its heart and that causes the axe to slip and plunge into his groin. He then bleeds out through his groin and dies.

It must be said, I didn’t enjoy this volume as much. There simply wasn’t as many of the odd little details I had been enjoying and far too much boring banking chat. Also, there were more rants. Whether it was a pretentious essay about bullfighting, or a positively red-pilled rant about the ‘dangerous’ effects on feminism and female influence. Then there are the unanswered elements, what about little Anthony and all the people left behind? Finally, after all the events, the struggles, the difficulty finding the best way of living and being more than “a mammal that dreamed”, he discovers that it’s to live a simple life - then smacks himself in the groin with an axe. As such, the book does not reach the potential impact of its 1225 pages (and 18 days of reading).

And also… what does Hervey Allen with the word ‘blent?’ Such an odd favourite word to use.

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