Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE PARTNERSHIP by Barry Unsworth


by Barry Unsworth

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-32147-9
Publisher: Norton

A first US appearance for this 1966 debut novel by Booker Prize–winning Unsworth (Sacred Hunger, 1992), notable primarily for what it promises.

Foley and Moss are partners in a firm that specializes in producing pixies for the tourist trade in a Cornish town called Lanruan. Foley is the artistic one, designing the small figures but hoping to branch out into what he considers the higher realm of cherub lamps and fixtures. Moss supervises production but is mainly valued by Foley for having provided the financing that enabled them to get started. Unsworth provides a brief overview of the business and briefly ushers on- and offstage various eccentric townspeople, but he maintains a tight focus on this odd couple in an unlikely place. The partners live together in a small house, and over time it becomes obvious that Moss is in love with Foley. That’s when things turn awkward. It’s striking that neither partner seems to have had any variety of romantic experience at all—thus Moss's assumptions about his partner's availability seem justified, though they astound Foley. Nevertheless, they live in some kind of domestic tranquility until Foley falls tentatively in love with Gwendoline. Infuriated, Moss responds by aggressively pursuing the gay companion of a local film star. Matters degenerate from there: Moss leaves after destroying what is left of the firm's inventory, Gwendoline marries someone else, and Foley is left wondering what happened to his life. Unfortunately, it all sounds more interesting than it is. Unsworth's prose is wonderful, but the love story does not seem as offbeat as it may have 30 years ago, and in the end quirky characters cannot entirely redeem a brief tale that reads long.

Rich with lush language, but perilously lacking plot or tension.