'I—er—write a little myself—just novels, you know,' said the lean and avid red-haired lady with that air of terrific modesty now in vogue among professional women, who boast to one another of their cooking and their ability to renovate evening dresses and their visits to Ideal Home Exhibitions—being carefully non-peculiar. 'But I don't expect you to know my name! Do you know Malaya well?'
There is an excerpt from what must have been a very enthusiastic review printed on the inside cover of my Penguin edition of Four Frightened People, and I note that there are a number of editions and reprints listed in the relevant section, so this must have been a well-received book when it was first published; it was even made into a film.
But I cannot fathom why: I thought it was a terrible story, underpinned by a premise which simply makes no sense, and focused on the adventures of characters whose actions, judged only by their own accounts, have to be considered reprehensible.
Judy Corder, the narrator, seems possessed of an analytical mind, and so as she recounts the journey undertaken by four unprepared passengers who flee a plague-ridden ship and then walk to safety through a Malay jungle, she reflects on what it is that sets her apart from others, and sets apart those with whom she has an affinity - and by sets apart I mean sets above.
Having read her story I could offer a few suggestions - self-concern and ruthlessness seem the principal attributes, combined with a lack of humanity and compassion. But Judy prefers to characterise people like herself as having a familiarity with poetry, a sensitivity to environment, a sense of detachment and no belief in God.