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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Hide and Seek

Dennis Potter

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To purchase Hide and Seek

Title: Hide and Seek
Author: Dennis Potter
Genre: Novel
Written: 1973
Length: 166 pages
Availability: Hide and Seek - US
Hide and Seek - UK
Hide and Seek - Canada
El escondite - España

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Our Assessment:

B+ : clever fun -- and bitterly bleak

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 8/11/1973 Elizabeth Berridge
Sunday Telegraph . 21/10/1973 Rivers Scott
Sunday Times . 4/11/1973 Maurice Wiggin
The Times . 25/10/1973 David Williams
TLS . 9/11/1973 P.J.Stead

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hide and Seek is an apt title, for the central character, Damiel Miller, is in flight from the author, and that unfortunate is just as much in flight from him. Until they merge into one. (...) It is an ingenious literary game that Mr Potter plays." - Elizabeth Berridge, Daily Telegraph

  • "The tension generated by this complex structure leaves the torment clearly etched, but the escape, if there is one, obscure. This, because I felt it was not the whole of Mr. Potter's intention, was why I found this searching book less than convincing." - Rivers Scott, Sunday Telegraph

  • "This is a very difficult novel; the humble reader might be more willing to meet its demands (they are worth meeting) if Mr Potter did not continually browbeat and humiliate him. (...) (H)is whole moral stance is to me absolutely admirable. I am only afraid that his difficulty and his cantankerousness, together, may obscure the purpose and lessen the impact." - Maurice Wiggin, Sunday Times

  • "All of this is exciting, honest and strongly imagined. I found the book too strident and high-pitched in palces, and would have preferred a more controlled approach to the theme such as you get in Raymond Queneau's Icare. But this is a powerful and deeply felt book all the same, and one which gives you plenty to think about." - David Williams, The Times

  • "Dennis Potter's first novel is a Pirandelloesque re-examination of the themes of his most successful television plays, a dense elaboration of the nature of creativity and the reality of invented things. (...) The tone of Hide and Seek, however, is not comic but desperate and embattled (.....) All of this is carefully and complexly done; and if Hide and Seek escapes being stifled by its own self-consciousness it is chiefly due to its insistent truth to its own condition as a work of fiction. Yet the final effect is of airlessness, even of aridity; as if the intricacy were in the end really only trickiness." - Philip John Stead, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Among the games of hide and seek in this novel, a basic one is of identity and autonomy -- boiling down, too, to the question of: can a character escape his author.
       Early on in this, Dennis Potter's first novel, the author weighs in, insisting:

     But the myth persist that most first novels are in large part autobiographical, and I again wish to make it absolutely clear beyond any reasonable argument that such a lazily modish observation cannot in honesty be made about this particular piece of literature.
       He doth protest an awful lot, however -- try as he might to explain the similarities in his biography and that of his protagonist, Daniel Miller, there's no getting around how very similar they are. And, in its creatively twisted narrative, it is the author's preöccupations , a reckoning with his own biography and demons, that come to dominate -- even as his erstwhile protagonist slips, or escapes from the tightest of his clutches .....
       Hide and Seek begins with Daniel Miller coming to an awful realization: he is a character in a novel -- as is the doctor he is talking to, as are all those around him. And it's not so much the fact that he is a character in a book that upsets him, but rather how he is at the mercy of a powerful other -- 'the Author'. As he hisses: "He is writing about me !" -- and: "He -- arranges things, plots, writes them down, pins me on the -- the p ... page".
       Potter capture's Daniel's frustrations nicely, right down to the authorial tricks employed to keep Daniel off-balance, as the Author goes about adroitly: "outflanking him at every syllable". Seemingly all-powerful, this Author can play as he pleases with his subject -- including:
intimidating Daniel with hostile jumps of perspective, inexplicable thickening of light, and swift spurts of sticky sadness.
       Troubling, too, to Daniel is what goes through his mind, down to his own understanding of his own identity, as it occurs to him: "Whose memories are these ?" -- as many of the memories, of what he's done and how he's treated others, like his wife Lucy, are deeply troubling.
       That's another part of it: Daniel doesn't like the book he's in. It's a "dirty Book", and:
     'Thanks to His spiritual bankruptcy my own actions are -- contaminated. I am polluted with the -- slime of His creation, the dirt and doubt and disease and despair and and and obscenity --'
       All in all, given this situation, Daniel finds: "he had every reason, every righteous impulse, to try to escape" -- and he does try to physically flee. Though of course that Author has him do so by venturing deep into all-too familiar Potter-land, Forest of Dean ....
       This first part of the novel, the long first chapter, focuses on Daniel, dealing with his newfound awareness of his situation, and him trying to find a way to escape it. The second part, then, sets Daniel aside, in a manner of speaking, the author (Author) emerging from behind his curtain and weighing in, in the first person, describing the writing of the book he's working on -- this book, with Daniel as its recalcitrant protagonist, that first section already sent off to the literary agent, whose reaction the author awaits .....
       The author asserts that he is (still) in complete control, that Miller: "remains an agglomeration of words" and nothing more. Nevertheless, he feels compelled to: "intervene so early in my own narrative" to emphasize that he is not to be confused with his character. He makes his case, and for a while that seems almost convincing -- but as the narrative continues, all sorts of lines become very blurred.
       Soon enough the author is complaining: "I have been dragged into my own book against my will" ..... From a variety of perspectives, he's trying to address deep-rooted feelings and memories, of shame and frustration. Sex is a major part of it: "Women. They are the root or the flesh of the problem". And through different characters -- his own, as well as Miller, and yet another variation, Robert -- he dredges up experience that haunts him, reworking and reconsidering them.
       If the idea of a character becoming cognizant that he is 'being written' isn't entirely new, Potter nevertheless takes this premise in some interesting directions -- including to the extent that he lets it (and that character) go, with the author-figure then coming to play a much more prominent (and different) role. Hide and Seek is also deeply personal, in the way much of Potter's work was, exploring similar issues and re-living dark scenes -- notably one with a prostitute -- from different perspectives, as if that could make them more manageable; like much of Potter's work it is also very raw -- blistering, even. And it feels very much all of a piece with his œuvre.
       Hide and Seek is a challenging smaller work -- when his agent asks the author about the plot: "I sniggered derisively. Plot ? My God, these art-school minds betray themselves at crucial moments" -- and it is perhaps more of interest now -- and more revealing -- considered as part of Potter's larger body of work, but even on its own, Hide and Seek is a solid, clever little novel that holds up quite well and certainly continues to have some appeal.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 December 2018

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Hide and Seek: Reviews: Dennis Potter: Other books by Dennis Potter under review: Books about Dennis Potter under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       English author Dennis Potter (1935-1994) is best known for his television scripts Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective.

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© 2018 the complete review

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