England on the eve of the Great War-in a decorous, atmospheric short novel which much too deliberately packs all the...



England on the eve of the Great War-in a decorous, atmospheric short novel which much too deliberately packs all the End-of-Old-England motifs into one weekend at an Oxfordshire estate. The host for this shooting party is Sir Randolph Nettleby, a very decent fellow who's preoccupied with ""form"" and broods over the future of rural life, the decline of the aristocracy (""If the landlord class goes, everything goes""). Also on the premises: Sir Randolph's flighty wife, a dear friend of the late King Edward VII; a daughter-in-law and several grandchildren (one of whom has a precious, imperiled pet duck which is forever threatening to become violently symbolic); and--among the guests--a Jewish financier, a Hungarian count, a sensitive sort, a dumb-hearty sort, and other types bearing rather too much thematic burden. Plus, outside the house itself: a contented-in-his-class gamekeeper with a gifted young son who ""could never feel as secure in his assumptions as his father was""; and an anti-hunting protester with Shavian opinions about land and privilege. So, with this panorama-in-a-nutshell setup, Colegate (Statues in a Garden, Orlando King) glides from character to character, involving us seriously with none of them, but finally focusing on two sources of conflict: the burgeoning, unconsummated love between married Olivia and sensitive Lionel (he realizes that ""form"" is ""too restricting a framework for the natural man""); and the bird-shooting rivalry between Lionel and famous hunter Gilbert-which has a stagily tragic result when insanely competitive Gilbert kills a peasant with a wild shot. (The peasant's dying monologue touches on class-conflict and ends with ""God save the British Empire!"") From start to finish, then, there's far too little real characterization and far too much prototyping here--as Colegate's metaphor-essay approach scrambles to include every 1913 issue, from Ireland and the failure of romanticism to budding feminism and the ""bigger shooting party"" that is war. Still, it's all done with grace, well-crafted vignettes, and a strong (if studied) Chekhovian feel for people-against-landscape--so readers more disposed to mood than storytelling will find this an evocative and elegantly restrained replay of Shaw's Heartbreak House milieu.

Pub Date: April 1, 1981

ISBN: 1582435936

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1981