by Maureen Connell ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 25, 1980
A young Catholic wife and mother slowly works her way out of depression, booze, infidelity, and other miseries (circa 1960, London)--in a literate but droningly explanatory first novel that details the ""pain"" (the word's on nearly every other page) without illuminating it. Born in proper colonial Kenya, little nun-taught Mary loses both father and mother early, so (though loved by brother Elliot) she soon learns to hide feelings: ""Never let them know what's going on inside."" And that will be Mary's motto ever after--even when, after a brief acting/modeling career, she weds well-born TV producer Geoff. She represses her jealousy over Geoff's female colleagues, her anger about his long business trips, her incestuous feelings for Elliot (who's in London for therapy after the collapse of his Kenya-farming dream). She becomes obsessed with nursing her baby. ""Helpless, she begins to scream,"" to drink, to have (on Elliot's urging) electro-shock treatment: another secret to keep from Geoff--""torture. . . what the devil did to sinners."" And when Mary learns that Geoff is having an affair, she hides her rage and finds herself trying adultery (""I never wanted that. My conscience--""); pregnant, she doesn't know who the father is and has a guilt-drenched abortion. Only, in fact, after Elliot's plane-crash death will Mary really reject her repressive religion (Mary Gordon-style): ""I allowed myself to be taken over. Nothing must ever do that to me again."" And after mutual confessions/accusations with Geoff, she's now ready to ""try and work it through."" A fairly plausible (if oversimplified) case history--and Connell's sharply detailed treatment of this apparently autobiographical material is all too depressingly convincing. But the overwrought, show-and-tell approach to Mary's emotions here (""Relief flows through Mary. . . Fear streaks through Mary"") makes for a lumbering, humorless narrative that diminishes in sympathy as it wallows along; only the Kenya sequences take on some extra resonance. A not-untalented debut, then, with an initial appeal that soon sours.
Pub Date: Feb. 25, 1980
Page Count: -
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1980
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