Kinky hijinks rattle teacups among the British bourgeoisie in the latest from Bennett (The Uncommon Reader, 2008, etc.).
The book consists of two stories, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” and “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes.” While no more a hottie than Margaret Thatcher, widowed, cash-strapped 55-year-old Mrs. Donaldson rents out a bedroom in her home to a young couple. Her daughter’s skeptical—“The first condom in the loo…and she’ll soon change her tune”—but student lodgers Laura and Andy are presentable. This proves crucial, when, behind on rent, they present Mrs. D. with barter—a presentation of themselves, feckless, doing the deed. My heavens! Even more so, when she finds herself agreeing. But things have changed since hubby (“an unobjectionable man”) departed, and Mrs. D. is spreading her wings. For one thing, she’s taken a job at the hospital, enacting, for doctors-in-training, roles of ill patients, and when the part demands disrobing, she discovers a curious willingness. Soon she’s hooked on the in-house freak show; when L. and A. depart, she mourns its loss. She gets on with life, though, perhaps a tad wiser…and warmer. In Bennett’s next tale, Betty is smitten with fiancé Graham Forbes, dashing, doting and younger, but seems in no way wise to something awkward: He’s gay (he spends the night before his nuptials with a boy named Gary). The Forbes folks initially pooh-pooh the match (they suspect she’s Catholic!), but Graham, who’d married for money, in time startles himself by actually liking Betty: She’s sharp, funny and understanding, and, with his sweetheart, the novelty even of hetero-sex is nice. Eventually, Graham’s secret comes out—as do others (“Mr. Forbes still from time to time sleeps with his daughter-in-law and leads a vigorous fantasy life on the internet…”), but the Betty/Graham union continues satisfying. While the message in these bagatelles isn’t clear, it probably has to do with acceptance.
Odd and oddly charming.