In a literate, chatty, matter-of-fact monologue (initially compelling, ultimately tiresome), a middle-aged Scottish...



In a literate, chatty, matter-of-fact monologue (initially compelling, ultimately tiresome), a middle-aged Scottish professor describes his obsessive, mildly kinky affair with a blasÉ, uninhibited girl-student--and the affair's violent end, which is heavily foreshadowed throughout. This cool, ironic psycho-narrator is Inn Laidlaw, 49, blighted since childhood by a massive facial scar, recently deserted by his wife: he's ""a calm, good teacher set fair for uneventful retirement followed by uneventful old age and uneventful death,"" Then, however, Laidlaw is overwhelmed by passion for Alicia Davie, from his Comp. Government II class, who (besides being a looker) is the first woman to openly stare at--and talk about--Laidlaw's scars. In fact, the disfigurement actually arouses Alicia, a veritable priestress of loveless sex. So soon she and Laidlaw--a newcomer to fleshly ecstasy--are sharing great sex and increasingly nasty, if undamaging, S-M games. ("" 'Oh, you are so ugly,' she'd whisper as her body twisted against the rising pressure of mine. 'You look just like a rotting corpse.'"") Eventually, of course, the folie à deux turns sour. Laidlaw writhes with jealousy when Alicia disappears for weeks on end or flaunts her other amours. Hatred replacing love, he escalates the sadism; Alicia stubbornly stays on. And finally Alicia's reaction to one overplayed game ""lets the ugly side of me loose. . .Bursting from me, the adder ready for release after a wait of forty years. Anger, the gift I gave her, felt with a force I never could have believed would be mine."" Despite grim childhood-flashbacks and extensive musings on the internal scarring that goes along with disfigurement, Laidlaw's case never becomes sufficiently credible or sympathetic; Alicia remains a cipher, more symbol of a hedonistic generation than involving character. So this slightly stylish debut, short on both feeling and suspense, ends up as a rather flat, dank exercise in literary psychopathology--without the dour conviction of, to take one recent example, Ruth Rendell's Live Flesh (1986).

Pub Date: March 26, 1987


Page Count: -

Publisher: Mysterious Press--dist. by Ballantine

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1987