In her second seductive novel, Palmer pays tantalizingly understated attention to the exotic/erotic embraces of...



In her second seductive novel, Palmer pays tantalizingly understated attention to the exotic/erotic embraces of thrice-married Sophie, nÉe Berglund, who could never ""resist"" anything. Sophie, in her late fifties, is dying, and presses upon her young doctor the ""book"" of her life, telling him her story, which begins in 1903, when German merchant Berglund finds a wife in Turkey--Amina, teen-aged daughter in the harem of a Turkish carpet dealer. Veiled Amina is the forbidden garden--""like a figure in a dream, faceless, mysterious, incandescent as a firefly,"" a heady, very private imported possession to absorb Berglund's fantasies. And when she dies after giving birth to son Turban, Berglund imports Amina's sister Yasmin, who gives birth to Sophie. But Yasmin is distressingly un-Turkish in outlook; Berglund sends her home; and Sophie, unlike weak Turban, will inherit her father's hunger for the obliterating, possessing embrace of an obsession. Her first grand passion is an affair with her stepmother Anita, whom she will possess in lieu of her father. But she'll lose Anita, see an initially joyful and lusty marriage to photographer Dimi go wrong, then suffer the suicide of 19-year-old Turhan and the dissolution of her childhood home. So, with all these losses, Sophie, after an operation, reacts to an injection of morphine (""every gap filled, saturated, released"") with one wish: ""to stay like that."" A friend attempts to break Sophie's habit; so does distant mother Yasmin. But it is not until a pre-WW II escape to England and marriage to a gentle teacher that Sophie is forced to a cure--and perhaps a ""cure"" from feeling? Still, there's one last passionless marriage (to a latent homosexual) plus a sordid reprise of Sophie's youthful headlong risks for love (a bizarre affair with a podgy operator of a ladies' bridge club); and gambling offers a temporary alternative drug (she gambles away her ill aged father's money). Finally, after demanding the tribute of a last love from the young doctor and wondering what went wrong (""I had so much to offer. . . and I made so little of it""), Sophie will take her own life. A diverting hot-house portrait--very faintly scented with fleurs de mal--which empathically follows the flooding of passion, the drought when passion fades.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1980