From the prolific Burgess (The Kingdom of the Wicked, Enderby's Dark Lady, etc.) comes a rollicking, bawdy paean to (mainly) vaudeville life in English seaside towns of the late 20's. Not a weighty or perfect book, but a very satisfying diversion with more than a few memorable comic moments. Presented as the tape-recorded raconteurings of a zesty, worldly madam, Ellen Henshaw, now retired in southern France, the first two thirds of the novel are really about her father, Billy Henshaw, a piano player (one who plays "very fast with the loud pedal on all the time. . .hammering it out. . .over the other noise"). He plays at the silent cinemas until the talkies arrive; he works for a vaudeville show until his lust for a teasing dancer gets him into a full-stage brawl with her husband; and in final desperation, then, he attempts to play a marathon 30 days and nights, gathering quite a demented crowd, but dying on day 15. This hard-driven character, especially as seen through the 13-year-old's eyes, is Burgess' best creation--Dad as a feisty, intemperate, sinking whale--and without him, the book loses steam. Ellen fast-forwards us through her rise as a madam--humor that just isn't as fresh. But the book ends on the upswing: an unrelated but funny tall-tale about a henpecked husband (Ellen's son) on an Italian vacation trying to dispose of his mother-in-law's fresh corpse, his distraught wife offering no sympathy. All in all, mostly fine entertainment from an author who has put his passion and learning for music (This Man and Music, 1983) to devilishly good use.