Four brief episodes in the life-histories of two English brothers and the vicar's daughter next door--with much fey ado...

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A VILLA IN FRANCE

Four brief episodes in the life-histories of two English brothers and the vicar's daughter next door--with much fey ado about sex and literature. In the early 1950s Penelope Rich is a precocious pre-teener in the village of Mallows near Oxford, living with her old-fashioned, well-born, non-wealthy papa (the vicar). Meanwhile, the older, richer Ferneydale boys are growing up at the nearby manor (where Penelope sees them skinny-dipping) and coming-of-age at Oxford: rakish Fulke loses his virginity with a Paris prostitute; soulful Caspar converts to Catholicism, studies existentialism. Jump, then, a few years down the road: Fulke is now a successful West End playwright; Caspar edits a philosophical journal; and teenage Penelope, joining Fulke and young Dr. Charles Gaston for a swimming party, seems to catch Fulke's eye. Next, another few years later: Penelope is now married to Caspar, having turned down Fulke; Fulke, on the rebound, is married to buxom Sophie, father of a son, living in a villa in France; but Dr. Charles has learned (and confides to Caspar) that Fulke is actually ""in a confused bisexual mess,"" carrying on with a series of male secretaries. Then, another few years later, both Caspar and Fulke are dead; childless widow Penelope has inherited Fulke's French villa--where she finds attractive young Bernie (the last of Fulke's secretaries) in flirtatious residence, intending to trick her into falling for a homosexual. (A nasty posthumous joke planned by Fulke, ""a basically homosexual man who took pleasure in his ability to. . . subjugate women."") And so Dr. Charles must finally fly over to rescue Penelope from this ""twisted-up performance"". . . with a marriage proposal. Penelope Gilliatt, perhaps, might have been able to make a fair short story out of this odd scenario; in Stewart's haphazard treatment (alternately coy, sniggering, and shrill), it's dullish up through to the finale, then merely peculiar.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 1982

ISBN: 0393336131

Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1982