Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Maurice Gilliams

general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Elias

Title: Elias
Author: Maurice Gilliams
Genre: Novel
Written: 1936 (Eng. 1995)
Length: 115 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Elias - US
Elias - UK
Elias - Canada
Elias - Deutschland
  • or The Struggle with the Nightingales
  • Dutch title: Elias of het gevecht met de nachtegalen
  • Translated by André Lefevere
  • Elias was made into a film in 1991, directed by Klaas Rusticus

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : lyrical, almost feverish childhood-tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The eponymous narrator of Elias is twelve when the short novel opens, under the sway of some of the cousins in a household packed with aunts and children. In particular, there's sixteen-year-old Aloysius -- but also Hermione, introduced teaching Elias how to literally play with fire. Among the first group-activities described are rehearsals for a play the kids are meant to put on, as they do every year -- "a touching play" featuring two of the aunts' children that had passed away years earlier, with Elias now the one assigned the "weighty part" of playing dead little Peter.
       It's surely no surprise that Elias admits: "There is something unbearable about this play-acting for me" when he has to assume the role of a dead cousin, but life generally here often follows the motions of play-acting. There's something ritualistic to a great deal that happens in this household, much that seems staged and like play-acting of various sorts. Among Elias' most vivid impressions are his mysterious adventures with Aloysius -- floating folded paper boats down a brook (an exercise Aloysius lets Elias participate in but is also possessive of), an encounter with some young girls. These, too, are like rituals that Elias can not fully fathom but easily gets caught up in.
       Aloysius goes off to boarding school while Elias stays behind, but Aloysius fares poorly academically. Back at the estate Elias is pleased by his presence again, even as it is not an obviously welcoming one:

He is looking for unsurpassable isolation, and when he talks about it I sense a sultry agitation in him and I get great pleasure from its fostering my own restlessness.
       The book closes with Elias' departure from the property -- a departure too from childhood:
All that is past, even the models of earlier generations that have been held up to me in a despotic manner, all lost for ever. Everything in this solemnly outstretched domain has become grandeur bred in vain, useless happiness and self-deception.
       In closing, with his final words, Elias is left wondering: "why does it have to be so sad, and so unjust ?"
       Apparently part of a trilogy, the later volumes only published in 1953 and (posthumously) 1982, Elias is feverishly pitched, as much hallucination of childhood as autobiographical account. Indeed, it feels more like a book of the fin de siècle (when the author, born 1900, was this age) than of the 1930s. Typical of the language and descriptions are passages such as:
There are no clouds. The moon floats in a sky of steel; the snow is frozen; the crown of the trees, delicate as gossamer, seem petrified by the silence.
       It's atmospheric and lyrical -- and, like the 'blue hand' that haunted Elias, there is a sense of sinister foreboding even to the everyday.
       Elias doesn't lose itself entirely in its poetry, but Gilliams is better with the vividly-expressed tableau and sensory impression than unfolding a narrative in a more clearly structured way. It's appropriate enough, for a childhood tale, and it works quite well; parts, certainly, are wonderful and the story as a whole too is effectively haunting.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 July 2014

- Return to top of the page -


Elias: Reviews: Elias - the film: Maurice Gilliams: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Flemish author Maurice Gilliams lived 1900 to 1982

- Return to top of the page -

© 2014 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links