A precise rendition of family unhappiness in the British upper classes (circa 1950), by the pseudonymous author of Natives and Strangers (1985). Thank heavens for Miss Cathcart: Joanna Drayton would be quite miserable without her. Ten-year-old Joanna is at loose ends as it is, rambling around Widleigh, the ancestral estate. Her father loves the countryside, but seems more at ease with the farm animals than with his family. Her mother spends much of her time shut in her bedroom, penning poems and battling the migraines that country life gives her. Brother James is an ally, but he's usually off at Eton. So it's up to her governess to give Joanna focus, to encourage her in her piano playing, and to charge the whole estate with her vitality. But then Miss Cathcart's affair with poetic James is discovered, and she's fired on the spot. Joanna's sent to a silly boarding school, and her parents' already dreadful marriage disintegrates completely. Meanwhile, Joanna's grandmother initially lavishes treats, but she proves to be as selfish as Mum is martylike. As Joanna gets older, her piano playing remains brilliant, but she's baffled by the small talk of her contempories. She befriends Lucas, whose thorough madness first appears to be charming eccentricity, and emerges from the bizarre relationship somewhat hardier. Her hard-won detachment propels her on to adulthood. An illuminating novel about family dynamics and society manners, with a brisk, outdoorsy tone that sets the emotional vacuity it portrays in disturbing relief. Tight and smart--but the revelations are tiny and the atmosphere airless. Fairly cheerless going.