A companion volume to Desirable Residences (1991): 31 more stories, all but two previously uncollected, by Benson (1867-1940), the British social satirist and chronicler of Lucia and Miss Mapp. Adrian's divisions of Benson's work into sections is rather misleading, for virtually all of Benson's stories are at once ``Society Stories,'' ``Sardonic Stories,'' and ``Crank Stories'' retailing the adventures of an indistinguishable set of social climbers obsessed with getting and keeping laughably inconsequential advantages over their equally venal competitors—cadging the choicest invitations, throwing the parties everyone will be talking about, insinuating themselves into the bosoms of this season's fashionable playwrights. Shorter, slighter anecdotes like ``Noblesse Oblige,'' ``An Entire Mistake,'' and ``The Fall of Augusta'' deal with guileful mistakes and deceptions (Is Mr. Carew buttering up the duchess or merely her secretary? Just who is Lady Teal, the new neighbor to whom Miss Mapp has so precipitately sent her card?). But Benson really shines when rendering power struggles between warriors who see through each other's tactics all too clearly—the American socialite who vanquishes her snobbish British counterpart, the ardent suitor who uses his collection of antique tableware to win the hand of his reluctant lady—and when exposing the comic pathologies of the truly, madly, deeply obsessed—the young miser who craftily hoodwinks himself out of every pleasure in his cushy life, the industrious author who sells shares of himself as a public corporation. One particular set of Benson's stories does stand out: Though the heroes of his ``Crook Stories'' are spiritual twins of his socialites, these ghost stories- -especially the fine concluding tale, ``Boxing Night''—show a compassion rare in his other work. A perfect bedside book—guaranteed to send you off to sleep with a malicious smile on your lips.
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