A rich and witty portrait of a widow enmeshed in the tangles of her late husband's professional and personal legacies, by Welsh novelist James (Storm at Arbeth, 1997). Anthony Gilchrist is at the center of this tale, although he appears on none of its pages. A poet of considerable note, now some seven years dead, he possessed the womanizing instincts that have become part of the poetic tradition in modern times. He also left three wives behind him. The last and youngest of these is Rosamund, now in her 30s, a painter who lives in a converted schoolhouse in a village north of London. Rosamund has a young son, Joss, and is trying to restart the career she interrupted to marry Gilchrist while still an art student. In the course of an interview with an art critic, Rosamund learns that his second wife, Erica, plans to publish some letters and poems that Gilchrist had sent to her more than 30 years ago. Because many of the poems are highly pornographic, the newspapers refuse to run them unless they—re first published as part of a full-length biography. So Erica proceeds to commission one. When Gilchrist's first wife, Molly, learns of this, however, she goes into a rage and vows to halt the publication. Through her solicitor she discovers that, although the poems were written and sent to Erica, their copyrights belong to Rosamund under the terms of Gilchrist's will. Rosamund doesn—t want to get involved in any squabbles and agrees to let Erica publish the poems, at which point Molly retaliates with a threat to reveal information about Joss's true parentage that Rosamund might prefer to keep from the light of day. What is it they say about a woman scorned? Certainly nothing about the quality of mercy. Literate, readable, engrossing: James's portrayal of male vice and female vanity has an old-fashioned tempo but is thoroughly modern in its construction—and utterly convincing in its venom.
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