Happy endings of the most defensible kind, helped along by an unlikely good fairy—Miss Beatrice Bachelor, a ``real original and very brave''—abound in Trollope's latest take on love and life in contemporary Britain (A Village Affair, 1989, etc.). Set mostly in that part of Oxford familiar to PBS fans of Inspector Morse, the story, like an updated Shakespearean comedy, begins with two couples that drift into dangerous areas come close to parting, but, thanks to the good offices of Miss Bachelor, are reunited at the end. James Mallow, in his early 60s, a journalist and teacher, lives happily with much younger Kate and her 14-year- old daughter, Joss, along with ancient and irascible Uncle Leonard. James's old friend Hugh, a TV personality married to much younger Julia, and father of young twin sons, lives nearby. An accident introduces James to Miss Bachelor, who lives in one room, along with Cat, a character in his own right. Meanwhile, Kate, feeling increasingly overwhelmed by her responsibilities—she also volunteers at a home for battered women—decides to move out, but Joss, a typical adolescent, stays on. It's the only home she knows, and she, as well as Uncle Leonard, has by now met Miss Bachelor and is also taken with her good sense and originality. Though Hugh's show on euthanasia—Uncle Leonard and Miss Bachelor, who helped her ailing brother die, contribute their forthright opinions—is a hit, Hugh's contract is not renewed. Which means that when Julia behaves absolutely marvelously to him, Hugh can't stand it and moves in with James. Kate, badly beaten by a lover, finally meets Miss Bachelor, who gives her the advice she needs. Hugh, missing the twins, heads home; subplots are deftly resolved; and all's well that ends well. One of those rare novels that can claim the high middle-ground where wisdom, wit, and literate characters meet to tell an entertaining—and all-around fulfilling—story.
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