THE HOUSE OF DOLLS by Barbara Comyns


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A brace of naughty, mean, spatting, 60-ish eccentrics paces this engaging tale about gleamingly bizarre little lives in a shoddy London neighborhood. By the English author of The Juniper Tree (1986). In the rooming house run by young widow Amy Doll, it is ""the Senora,"" middle-aged daughter of Barcelona butchers, who suggests that the four roomers join forces and establish a salon for entertaining ""casual gentlemen."" Agreeing almost immediately are Berti and Evelyn--both divorcees in their 60s, ""addicted to tight trousers and drink. . .with small well-bred faces."" Evelyn has a tiny annuity from her husband; Berti has an allowance from her brother, the General, ""on the condition she make no contact with the family."" And both have large imaginations when it comes to the past. The decorous widow Ivy briefly joins the ""Saloon,"" with bar, mirrors and nude statues arranged by Berti. Old remnants from Berti's and Evelyn's past totter in, and young men--viewing such marvels as Berti joyfully dancing starkers--""came to laugh their heads off."" Meanwhile, Amy Doll is embarrassed (""but they couldn't manage the rent otherwise""), tidies up, and worries about daughter Hetty, 14, emotionally not up to teenhood but skipping school. (Hetty's been creating lovely pictures from shards of old china with a gentle, retarded man.) Then enter the Law in the person of Harry the policeman--who's come to court Amy, not to sniff out sin. Amy and Harry marry. Gradually the roomers leave; Hetty is to have a ""swinging"" teen-ager's bedroom; and there's a new neat apartment for a fellow policeman. Is the house, in the words of a neighbor, ""getting like an effing police station""? Still, thinks Amy--landlady of wayward fun no longer--""it's nice to be on the right side of the law."" A doll's house of mirth--and the two old good-time girls, cracked like Hetty's mosaic china and ""snarling at each other over their drinks,"" are marvellous.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1990
Publisher: St. Martin's