The obsessive love of English housewife Claudia Bohannon for her ""beautiful"" stepson Philip--in a wispy, sporadically amusing novel that lacks the satiric richness of Ellis' 1981 debut, The Birds of the Air. After 15 years of pleasant domestic stagnation, Claudia--her two kids off to boarding-school--""now felt the desire to wear what she had never worn. . . the strange and garish garment of her self."" For the first time she stops trying to please wealthy, benignly piggy husband Charles. And she suddenly develops a grand passion for Charles' gentle son Philip, a sometime houseguest. Claudia is a very timid suburban Phaedra, however; she writhes with guilt and keeps her lust to herself, except for cryptic confessions to her neighbor/chum Sylvie (who's been off men for years). So a good deal of the focus is given instead to Sylvie's daughter Evvie, a graduate student who's writing a pulp-romance novel, inspired by local characters: excerpts from Evvie's work-in-progress--with parodies of potboiler prose--become a rather tedious running gag, as well as a somewhat heavyhanded commentary on the follies of All-consuming Love. Eventually, then, after extensive foreshadowing, the impossibly naive Claudia learns that her beloved Philip is homosexual; and, in a slapsticky Halloween-party finale, pseudo-sophisticated Evvie has a few of her illusions shattered too. In sum: familiar love/sex ironies in the low-key, dry British manner--marred by unconvincing characterization, occasionally brightened by Ellis' wry insights and elegant turns-of-phrase.