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THE HIDE by Barry Unsworth


by Barry Unsworth

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-393-03955-2
Publisher: Norton

 An earlier work by Booker-winning Unsworth (Savage Hunger, 1992; Morality Play, 1995, etc.), now making its first appearance in the US: a brooding, quietly savage little tale of eccentricity, manipulation, and malevolence on an English country estate. Simon lives with his sister Audrey and her ward/maid Marion in a rambling house surrounded by unkempt grounds, all gone to seed since Audrey's husband's death. It suits antisocial Simon perfectly, since he can use the tangled overgrowth to mask his secret passions: spying on a well-endowed neighbor when she unwittingly exposes herself, and building tunnels complete with secret chambers where he can retire for moments of delicious privacy. His bliss is disrupted, however, when Audrey hires a young gardener, Josh, to tidy up. Josh has his own story to tell: Formerly a stall attendant at a local amusement park, his simple, trusting manner has brought him under the influence of a sharp- tongued malcontent, Mortimer, with whom he shares news of his new employers. Marion and Audrey are both giddy in Josh's virile presence, Audrey thinking herself his patron when she finds that he has a real talent for woodcarving. But Josh has eyes only for teenager Marion. Their mutual attraction results in clutches and fumblings about the grounds, and Audrey is devastated, but a sharper blow comes to her when the drama society, of which she is an ardent member and primary supporter, dumps her. Meanwhile, Simon has witnessed all from his various ``hides'' among the bushes, using his gathered information to further his own ends. But when Josh allows Mortimer and another man to ``share'' Marion, against her will, even the voracious voyeur has had his fill. Ranging from scenes of farce to scenes of chilling cruelty, what emerges is a superbly nuanced view of human frailty beset by evil and adversity--a strong addition to the Unsworth oeuvre already available here.