Described as a narrative experiment, this wildly compelling novel ostensibly depicts the tender passion of an adulterous love affair, though in the end it becomes clear that it's also a highly original meditation on the tenuous links binding fact and fiction. At the heart of this work by Hardy, a noted Welsh-born scholar of Victorian fiction and author of the memoir Swansea Girl (not reviewed), is Florence Jones, a noted scholar of Victorian fiction and a Swansea girl herself. Hardy's first-person narrative, real, convincing, clearly heartfelt, continually implies not artifice but the depths of reality. Part of the authenticity is derived from the style--zig-zag tangents of memory that take us through Florence's 15-year romance with an American professor in Oxford. Mick, whose wife is deteriorating from multiple sclerosis, meets the independent, sexually adventurous Florence and falls in love. The affair the two nourish, described in touching and candid detail, has a bold sentimentality about it, more suggestive of Victorian devotion than of an illicit liaison. It ends with Mick's untimely death. Laced throughout the narrative are moments from Florence's past--pre-Mick--of Charlie, her Welsh soulmate but unreliable husband, Mel and Timmy, her in-between lovers, and family and friends who rush by in a seemingly random fashion, until the structure, sound as any scholarly work, shines through: The heading for each chapter is the starting point for a lifetime of memories in that category, offering a varied view of Florence through the ages. Added to the structural acrobatics is the thinly veiled autobiographical novel Florence is writing about her affair with Mick, completing Hardy's circle, audaciously teasing the boundaries between the fictional and the real. Above and beyond its ambitious structure, this polished novel of sex, love, and literature is poignant and engagingly romantic.