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A loose-knit collection of personal essays, all of them short, irreverent, and revealing, by one of Britain’s top novelists (Every Man for Himself, 1996; The Birthday Boys, 1994; etc.) When she first began her column for the London Evening Standard in the late ’80s, Bainbridge claims that she “mistakenly attempted to grapple with so-called burning issues,” only to realize that such an undertaking required much research. Overwhelmed by the effort, she soon turned her attention home again. “I’m not bothered,” she writes, “with causes or hard facts; my preoccupation is not with the immediate how and why of the lives we lead, but rather with a raking over of the life we once knew.” And so she does, with self-deprecating wit and a knack for character-revealing detail. The character she exposes, however, is her own. Bainbridge casts herself as the slightly addled owner of a ramshackle house overrun by various adult daughters and their assorted children. At every turn, the author’s efforts to write her column are interrupted by their comings and goings, as well as those of her secretary, her cleaning woman, her cat, her local ghost and equally local policeman. The tumult provides Bainbridge with enough centrifugal force to connect the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous, completely bypassing the sublime. Who else would link a brief discussion of philosopher David Hume to a failed attempt to rent a geriatric guest from the Council housing project for Christmas? Or use the event of a concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to reflect upon a ruptured carbuncle and the decline of British manners? Although hardly profound, Bainbridge has a way of skewering her own foibles and those of the larger society with a deft pen, casually mixing and matching personal and social phenomena with the odd faux pas. Thus Bainbridge succeeds in creating a book of short essays as salty and addictive as a bag of crisps. (drawings by author, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-7867-0517-5
Page count: 176pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1998


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