The half-engaging, half-tiresome entanglements (romances, friendships) of an American in England, 1964-1978. Jacob Harris,...



The half-engaging, half-tiresome entanglements (romances, friendships) of an American in England, 1964-1978. Jacob Harris, short and red-haired, arrives for grad-studies (Classics) at Cambridge in the early 1960s, immediately looking up journalist Oliver Standish, the brother of an English friend from school in the US. And Jacob, an Anglophilic Jew, finds that Oliver, wife Frances, and six-year-old Imogen are ""splendidly representative of English upper-middle-class life at its best""; he sees Imogen as his own imaginary daughter; Frances is his prime confidant--as Jacob has a serious affair with an Englishwoman despite a fiancÉe back home. Then it's 1970: Jacob has stayed on in England, breaking up with both women and pursuing computer-programming work instead of his Ph.D. Meanwhile, the Standish marriage has gotten very rocky (Oliver has a ubiquitous mistress, Frances takes LSD), so Jacob--now involved with fiercely independent biochemist Laura, who doesn't want children yet (if ever)--becomes more and more of a stand-in parent for bright, moody Imogen. But the relationship with Oliver and Frances goes permanently sour when they repay his devotion with jealousy. Imogen starts quickly growing up, becoming a breezily promiscuous teenager. And, inevitably, Imogen will seduce her beloved mentor, even becoming happily pregnant by him, but refusing to settle down with him (she wants to know ""more about the world than I can through one person""); so Imogen, Jacob, and the tetchy-yet-complacent Laura wind up, after much strained chatter, as a cheery, informal sort of mÉnage à trois. Unfortunately, first-novelist Bernard doesn't succeed in making any. of her major characters fully credible or sympathetic: Jacob's a sap (and not always a convincing American), while his two quasi-feminist lovers come across as merely shallow. Throughout, too, the liberated-lifestyle touches seem awkwardly tacked in. But Jacob's relationship with the senior Standishes offers some shrewd cross-cultural tension, and--until things bog down irretrievably with Imogen's pregnancy--the bright London/Cambridge/Italy narration will entice a few of Jacob's fellow Anglophiles.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Secker & Warburg--dist. by David & Charles

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983

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