Morris West, (born 1916-died 1999) was generally shunned by Australian literati during his lifetime; however, he is honoured here for two reasons: 1) He was the first to write the so-called “blockbuster” Aussie novel; and 2) he was something of an enigma, an ex-Christian Brothers monk seemingly well equipped to discuss thorny religious matters, who always remained a controversial – yet committed – Catholic all of his life.
One wonders if the greatest impetus behind his prodigious writing career (60 million books sold) was his own deep longing for answers in his own spiritual quest. In fact, he himself has said many times that his novels all deal with the final dilemma of questions that can only be ascertained by the people asking them.
After reading several West novels, this reviewer was most impressed with The Devil’s Advocate, a novel that deserves high marks for its pervasive symbolism, sharp characterization, a riveting plotline, a blurred edge between good and evil perceptions, and his choice of a superb Italian locale, based on extensive travel and research. This book brought West his is only major award: The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Devil’s Advocate in 1959.
Unfortunately, West’s work can be rather weak at times in its wrap-up, with lengthy scenarios often stitched together in haste to justify all that has transpired before.He is a bit repetitious in his presentation, both in basic word usage (despite a brilliant vocabulary) as well as in the ongoing storyline, a problem most noticeable, perhaps, in The Clowns of God. Many writers, though, not only use repetition in a rhythmical sense, but also as a way of emphasizing the major direction of a book, and this may have been Morris West’s intention.
In any case, Clowns was a bestseller for many reasons, chief among them that West grabs your attention on the first page and won’t let go until the end, which sadly seems contrived and rather ridiculous in its denouement. Some ongoing violence also smacks of commercialism, hitting readers where it hurts. But, draw your own conclusions as you embark on an exciting ride!
Despite any perceived failings, Morris West remains a master of his craft. To his credit, he said, “If God be God and man a creature made in image of the divine intelligence, his noblest function is the search for truth.”
In this regard, West more than fulfilled his destiny.