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For Moore, lean is better--and his last fiction, The Mangan Inheritance, had all sorts of vague ancestral flab to it. Here, though, he's back to keeping his tale down to one or two slim character portraits; hence--a successful novel in Moore's most agreeably modest manner. Eileen Hughes is a young Northern Irish girl living in Lismore and working in the local department store as assistant to its owner, Mona McAuley. Mona's husband, Bernard, is the richest man in town; the McAuleys, childless and both in their young thirties, travel frequently; and recently they've taken Eileen, as Mona's protÉgÉe, to Dublin with them for an all-expenses-paid trip. Now they're doing the same again, but it's to London--where, alone with the innocent Eileen (""who was waiting for all those things to happen to her as they were supposed to happen to girls her age""), Bernard reveals his platonic, obsessive, dotty love for her. No sex is asked, no mutual commitment: he just wants to look at her, be near her. Moreover, Mona knows about--and has acceded to--Bernard's passion; they have worked out an arrangement whereby Mona is given liberty to sleep with other men while out of Lismore. But this odd setup is doomed, of course--and when Eileen is seduced by an American in the London hotel, Bernard catches them and then tries suicide. True, the plotting is a trifle contrived; Mona could do with some fleshing as a character; and what a sharper, more dour writer like William Trevor would have made of the situation here is tempting to imagine. But Bernard and Eileen seem just right, and Moore neatly sidesteps the clichÉs of older-man/young-girl seduction, sticking instead to the inevitabilities of warped circumstance. A trim slice-of-life, then, entertaining along the lines of a short, tight dramatic film--and Moore's best novel in years.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1981
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux