A first novel by well-known feminist Oakley (Telling the Truth about Jerusalem, Taking it Like a Woman): an oddly dated academic satire about professors of either sex who have affairs and go to the library to find out what they mean.
Each chapter here uses an epigraph from The Second Sex to light the way, so that the characters--however manic or lust-ridden they become--serve mostly as ironic footnotes to Simone de Beauvoir. The plot centers on Charity Walton and Mark Carleton, two sociology professors who get the hots for each other--Mark because he gets the hots for every attractive woman he sees, and Charity because she thinks it's time to have an affair. At times the subsequent social comedy is delightful, at times too structured with laboriously staged polemic, too stiffly expository. "What happens next?" Charity asks Mark, who is a kind of academic operator, juggling affairs and working forever on a book about the "social construction of everyday life." Well, anyone could tell her the answer: Charity leaves her husband (who is having his own affair); Mark can't quite bring himself to leave his wife Jane and his children; but then he does leave them (after Charity tries to kill him). He moves in with Charity, moves back to Jane, and returns to Charity, though by then he's having other affairs, finally a serious one with Tessa, who wants his child. He leaves Charity for Tessa but, in the year 2000, he meets Charity in Amsterdam, fulfilling an old remembered promise, because love is mystical. A large Cast of characters, meanwhile, flit in and out, reading books, theorizing, and doing various academic stunts, some slapstick, some life-shaking.
A lively addition to that popular English subgenre, the academic novel: Oakley has fun with feminism and with her characters, but her situations and insights are largely passé.