First novel from Polish-born scholar and critic Appignanesi (Postmodernism, Ideas from France, etc.--not reviewed): a big,...



First novel from Polish-born scholar and critic Appignanesi (Postmodernism, Ideas from France, etc.--not reviewed): a big, rich family romance that strives for intelligent characterizations while loading on entertainment values. Pivotal here is Sylvie Kowalska, a Polish teenager of great musical talent and equally strong erotic drive. While at a concert in Paris, Sylvie begins a steamy seduction of psychoanalyst Jacob Jardine and at the same time has a lesbian affair with fellow schoolgirl Caroline. Sylvie's flirting with men at cafes inflames Jacob and eventually drives him to marry her, although he knows that her sexual volatility can never be held in check by either of them. Jacob, before meeting Sylvie, has had a long affair with Mathilde, who now abandons him reluctantly to marry Prince Frederick of Denmark, a cold fish. Sylvie thinks Mathilde a rival. During the Nazi occupation, Sylvie saves Jacob's life when he is a prisoner; then, pregnant, she goes to Poland to see a beloved friend. While there, she has a boy baby but after delivery distractedly switches the boy for a girl baby to satisfy both Jacob and the memory of the now-dead Caroline, who's committed suicide. Sylvie is a vicious mother to baby Katherine, whose story takes over. Meanwhile, the switched baby boy, Jacob's real son Alexie Gismond, eventually becomes a famed Italian film director, then is told by Sylvie that he is her son--but she kills herself before explaining all to him. Alexie begins tracking down Katherine, who deeply loves Jacob, her so-called father. Waiting for the recognition scenes between Katherine and Jacob and between Katherine and her lover Alexie (whom she comes to believe is her brother) keeps the reader charged. But the story's resolution comes about irritatingly as a result of information from offstage. Lots of analysis, sex, and references to great artists make for gripping fun that never rises above fur-lined romance.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1992


Page Count: 572

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1991