An appealing, busily peopled tale by the British author of several similarly bustling novels with iron-spined heroines (Enchanted Ground, 1993, etc.). This time, a recently widowed Englishwoman—in her 30s, frazzled, with a glum view of humanity in general—learns to cope (though barely) with an assortment of colliding guests, help, and neighbors, in her small hotel in a postwar Italian village. Nan has been accustomed to thinking of herself as the perennial outsider; certainly her mother had given ``home'' in England a sour meaning, and Nan's late husband, much older than she, had loved her but in an avuncular fashion—a fashion quite apart from that of lovers steaming in the fires of passion. Now, after a spell of post- bereavement weeping, Nan has rallied to try to put down roots, to belong to her villa-turned-hotel and its village. The cluster of troubles begins with the death of a guest, the elderly Major Baghot, whose vague little widow Molly seems not to care. The elusive Molly, given to wandering over meadows, is to be shipped back to England to live with her horrid sister Lily. But Molly seems disinclined to leave, and Lilly's own arrival approaches like Armageddon. Then there is the doomed love affair between a beautiful convent orphan and a dear young priest (a dark, secret tragedy, sunk in the village's past, intervenes), as well as the irritating affair of Dr. Fortuna, who's quietly, affectionately charmed by Nan, and the wife of a guest, whose husband fumes and whose little boy roams. While the household staff offers loud commentary, and matters are at a boil, Nan roars back and forth in her ancient Morris, shoring up finances and sanity, and hunting for the lost. Finally, good folks rally round, including competent, irreverent Aunt Dot from England, a priest (both friend and foe), and Dr. Fortuna. Without the lethal edge of Mary Wesley, but Woodhouse's fans- -as well as Wesley's—will be charmed and delighted by this comedy- with-a-bite.
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