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At a time when child sex abuse elicits myriad accusations, mea culpas, and endless shelves of prefab fiction, the prolific Wilson (Jesus, A Life, 1992; The Vicar of Sorrows, 1994; etc., etc.) offers a respectable, genuine, intellectual portrait of a pedophile that also makes for a gripper indeed. When philosopher and ex-university don Oliver Gold, 43, moves into an attic room in the London house of widowed Janet Gold, it’s thought by all that his reason for going from teaching to the attic is to concentrate on his long-expected magnum opus. His real reason for moving in, though, is no such thing, but instead it’s the appeal of being near his deepest love-object, Janet’s three-year-old granddaughter Bobs (from Roberta). When the main action opens, seven years have passed, and not only does nary a soul in the house think of Oliver as a pervert, but each is in love with him—not only Bobs, who finds him the greatest pal she’s ever had, but also the 60ish Janet herself, for whom Oliver provides the literary and artsy cachet that had almost disappeared with the death of her editor-husband; Janet’s divorced daughter (and mother of Bobs) Michal; and Michal’s beautiful lover (and ex- student of Oliver’s) Catharine Cuffe. When news comes—like a bolt from the blue—that Oliver is to marry an American and leave the attic forever, things shift into high gear as everybody tries to figure out why. Matters—often grimly, even wonderfully, comic, such is Wilson’s sleight-of-hand—will go from bad to worse, then far worse still, as each of the women (and Bobs, too) tries to serve and save her own interests, as does also the hyperintellectual, deeply serious, but child- and sex-tormented Oliver, who in spite of all (and —all— includes plenty) remains believably human, thanks to the estimably gifted Wilson. A —topic— novel that surpasses its genre and goes to the dreadful—but this time authentic—heart of the matter.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-393-02740-6
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1998


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