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American debut by Scottish prizewinning novelist Kennedy:  a strange, evocative tale of the unlikely romance between two troubled and lonely people.

Helen Brindle suffers from the sort of emotional destitution that seems to exist only in the British Isles.  A middle-aged housewife in Glasgow, married to a perfect brute, she endures her lot meekly but not hopelessly, waiting rather than looking for the means of escape:  "She had never sought the temporary comfort of childhood hymns, of absolution, or even of very lovely Mysteries.  Mrs. Brindle had only wanted someone who understood, a person who would tell her what was wrong and how to right it."  When she hears a German psychiatrist, Edward E. Gluck, on the BBC discussing the "cybernetics" of sexual and mental health, Helen feels she may have found her guide.  She reads some of the Professor's books and goes so far as to write him.  Incredibly, he replies, and soon Helen is on her way to Stuttgart for a consultation.  Helpful and attentive in his formal German manner, the Professor becomes more of a friend for Helen than therapist, and he even comes to visit her in Glasgow - where he reveals to her that he suffers from a compulsive obsession with pornography and masturbation, and that this has gutted his career and destroyed his capacity for normal human relations.  Helen, suffering as much from her loss of religious faith as from her miserable marriage, finds herself more sympathetic than shocked, and she encourages the Professor to rebuild his life.  Her husband's brutality, however, increases to the point of madness, and Helen has to find a way of saving herself and the Professor both.  Or can they manage to save each other?

Beautiful, rare, and touching:  Kennedy handles extremely volatile material with the greatest care, never once sinking into bathos or perversity.  A small gem.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40272-1
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1998


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