This new novel by the author of Watership Down and two other strong sellers should be nearly unreadable. The plot is a...



This new novel by the author of Watership Down and two other strong sellers should be nearly unreadable. The plot is a pretentious, purposefully vague variation on a mÉlange of occult-tinged, modern-gothic motifs (spouse with a mysterious past, ghostly threats, reincarnation, sex-and-sin). And the narrator-hero is an unconvincing creation whose psychology is absurd and whose prose is forever going all gushy, arch, or literarily allusive. Yet, despite fundamental lapses, Adams is one of those born storytellers whom many readers will follow anywhere--even into the minds of talking animals; even, as here, into the mind of narrator Alan Desland, an erudite and virtually sexless ceramics merchant in the Berkshire country west of London. Virtually sexless, that is, till he meets German secretary KÄthe on a business trip to Copenhagen: she's a ""raving beauty"" who weeps over Mozart, speaks beautiful English, and--""If I were not in love, then no one had been in love since the world began."" Even more miraculously, KÄthe loves unattractive Alan--so within a week or two, though Alan knows nil about KÄthe's past (""to pry would only upset her""), they're married. . . in Gainseville, Fla. (courtesy of one of Alan's millionaire customers). And, despite one false sexual start and Alan's miffed Mummy, the marriage is bliss, with KÄthe an empress of erotic delights (""then would gush the delirious, melting pleasure"") and even a happy helper in the shop. But: Why did KÄthe so adamantly refuse a church wedding? What about Alan's nightmares and hallucinations involving water and drowning? What about a dog with a collar marked DEATH, a dreamy sexual moment with ancient history floating before Alan's eyes, or the sounds of a child weeping--over the phone and in the garden Yes, folks, Something Evil is Coming, and not even theological discussion with a minister friend or KÄthe's fantastic find at an auction (a priceless, historic porcelain toy called The Girl in a Swing) can save them. So KÄthe and Alan must flee from the Evil, to the sea, where KÄthe--who's a reincarnated she-devil or a woman who drowned her own child, or both--dies of an ectopic pregnancy, while Alan (who may have read Sophie's Choice) pro-claims, ""I forgive her. . . . I cannot wish anything undone, if that would mean that we had never loved. . . ."" Many readers, in fact, will find Alan impossibly insufferable (and hopelessly un-erotic) throughout. Others, however, will read right along--for Adams' vivid, varied scene-setting, for the engaging ceramics-shop detail, for the well-drawn supporting characters, for the basic sense of pace and place that can make even a murky mishmash of a tale like this one seem like a ripping good story.

Pub Date: April 30, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1980

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