A first US appearance for a novel of acutely detailed alienation and despairing acceptance, first published in 1935 in Britain under the pseudonym Helen Ferguson. Kavan (Mercury, 1995), a writer always attuned to sensibility and mood, offers a story with a strong autobiographical element and period flavor that, in keeping with the despair that lurks beneath the surface, brings little solace. Lives intersect as Martin, the younger son of London department store magnate William Lewison, meets a woman named Anna Kavan while vacationing with his father in the south of France. Lewison Sr. has just prevailed upon Martin to divorce his French (and most unsuitable) wife, Germaine, on the grounds of her adultery with Martin's best friend, and Martin, self-centered but full of good intentions, is awaiting the final decree. Anna Kavan has left her husband Matthew in Burma and fled to London, but the attentions of a wealthy old judge who wants her to be his mistress, and the difficulties of a frustrating business venture with a friend, have driven her to France. Acknowledging her own cool and egocentric nature, she determines to make a life for herself, but she is neither wealthy nor educated, and when she meets Martin and the two fall in love, Anna wants to marry him. But Martin prefers his freedom, so Anna, unable to survive alone, reconciles with her husband. Meanwhile, the Lewison fortunes suffer a reversal, William falls ill, and Gwenda, Martin's sister, betrays her family by siding with their rival Tony Quested. Only William and Martin seem made of tougher stuff: William determines to revive his business, and Martin pays his debt to Anna by painting her portrait: It keeps ``alive a good and lovely thing which otherwise would have perished.'' Lives that are brittle, even shallow, are mercilessly stripped bare to reveal all their flaws and inadequacies by a writer who sees more often than not through a glass darkly. Chilling but intriguing.
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