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More barbed British satire by the author of The Birds of the Air (1981) and The Other Side of the Fire (1984), but here curiously blended with the grim lives of Welsh countryfolk. There are the taciturn farmer Hywel; his bored wife Elizabeth, pining away for the lost affection of the loutish village doctor; and Hywel's birth-defected, death-obsessed sister Angharad. Into this strange society comes the self-indulgent, nonetheless wickedly articulate London journalist Lydia, licking her wounds from a disastrous love affair; she's drawn, despite herself, into the twists and turns of the countryfolks' often hopelessly melodramatic lives, coming quickly to realize that ""this valley is a sort of extended nut. house."" Her three weeks' rest is additionally disturbed by the presence of a laughing ghost in her cottage, and by her dowdy vegetarian companion Betty, who's come along to see to it that Lydia doesn't do herself in. As it turns out, Lydia's ego is far too robust for suicide, and the valley's inhabitants only confirm her already flourishing misanthropy. (She wishes people would ""all crash their cars and die."") She returns to London happily recovered from her dashed love affair, but still the outsider, due mostly to her own mean mind and sharp tongue. Lydia's quips and ruminations on the difficulty of being good offer occasional episodes of humor, but she's otherwise a hard character to care for; the rest of the cast suffers simply from its perpetual positioning as the butt of her jokes. In sum, more style than substance.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1987
Publisher: Harper & Row