Monday, August 19, 2013

Cronin's Way

In the middle of the 20th century, A.J. Cronin was among the most popular novelists on both sides of the Atlantic. That's why you can find so many of his books at estate sales and Friends of the Library used book sales. Few people read him today, although copies of some of his best-known works (The Keys of the Kingdom, Shannon's Way and The Citadel) can still be found in some bookstores.)

His novels, if somewhat dated, remain worth reading, however, as does his memoir published more than 60 years ago, Adventures in Two Worlds. The "two worlds" of the title refer to the worlds of medicine and literature. He was a successful London doctor when his own doctor suggested he take an extended rest to recover from an ulcer. During that rest, he wrote a best-selling novel, Hatter's Castle, and never returned to the practice of medicine.

His memoir, if fascinating reading, is amazingly impersonal, as if he were just an observer to his own life story. You will find next to nothing here about his boyhood, his family, his friendship or his interests. If you want to know something about his life, including what the initials A.J. stand for (Archibald Joseph), you would be better off to look up his Wikipedia article.

Although Cronin turns philosophical and theological toward the end of Adventures in Two Worlds, his book is mostly a series of stories about the people he met during his life. Because he met far more people as a doctor than as a writer, that part of the book is both longer and more interesting. He writes, for example, about a young man he saved from a suicide attempt whom he met years later aboard an ocean liner and about a hermit known as Houseboat Tam who became ill and then ultimately married the woman who had agreed to nurse him back to health.

Some of his stories seem a little too creative for a memoir, as when he describes conversations that supposedly took place while he was absent. Adventures in Two Worlds could be described as a collection of short stories instead of a memoir with about the same degree of accuracy.

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