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FAVOURS by Bernice Rubens Kirkus Star



Pub Date: April 25th, 1979
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster

The most bitter, least tender novel yet from a sardonic chronicler of loneliness and repression--but a sharp and eerie entertainment nonetheless. Orphanage-haunted spinster Jean Hawkins, 61, is all set to commit prim suicide on the day of her retirement after 47 years at the For Your Pleasure candy company. But her retirement gift turns out to be a gilt-edged five-year diary--and Miss H., who has always obeyed orders, feels she's now required to live another five years. And strangely, the empty diary seems to force her to really start living--she begins each day by writing an activity in the diary, then going out to obey her own command. She starts with little things, like taking a walk, but soon she has become quite daring: ""Went to the library and met a man,"" she writes. And so she does. Unfortunately, the man she meets is Brian Watts, an elderly creep whose life has been ruined by a grasping, hating mother; and Brian finds in Miss H. the perfect victim, a female whose naked desperation inspires him to become the world's least likely gigolo. First he merely forces Miss H. to treat him to a fancy tea, but then he gets quite specific: he presses her knee, says ""That was a free sample,"" and presents her with a decorated price list--from hand-holding for tuppence to the Total Unmentionable for 50 pounds. And, when Miss H. accepts this (deluding herself that Brian is saving her payments for their married life), Brian sees a way to get enough lolly to put his mother away in a fancy home: he solicits other clients, wealthier and earthier ladies than poor Miss H. So, by the time that Miss H. has run out of money and sells her furniture to get the 50 pounds to Go All The Way, Brian has found someone else to marry. Miss Hawkins' fantasies collapse, and--in a contrived finale--she encounters and murders the now-ancient orphanage matron who's responsible for her psychosexual stunting. . . . There are echoes here, not altogether pleasant ones, ranging from Tennessee Williams heroines to Zero Mostel's servicing of old biddies in Mel Brooks' The Producers. And the pathos (unlike that of Barbara Pym, who covers similar territory) often seems ghoulishly belabored. But Rubens is a devilishly seductive storyteller, and perhaps the spicy lure--and feminist resonances--of Favours will lead readers to her even better, and much warmer, books: Chosen People (1969) and I Sent a Letter To My Love (1978).