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What matters with C.P. Snow is not the plot but the observation. And it is in this respect that the body of his work has been likened to Galsworthy, concerned as it has been with the manners and morals of the special class of people who make up the British Establishment. Though he has been found wanting in terms of style, by comparison, for example, with Anthony Powell, still the Strangers and Brothers series has achieved tho status of a ""literary document of our time."" The plot of this novel hinges on the far from extraordinary device of a contested will. Irascible old Mr. Massie has left his sizable fortune to Julian Underwood, worthless son of his secretary/companion, cutting off his estranged daughter, Jenny Rastall, entirely. Jenny is content to go on living, unattached, in genteel poverty, until her employer, tycoon Reginald Swaffield, intervenes -- for his own reasons -- to have the will overturned. It happens that Julian has been having a longstanding affair with the daughter of Lord Hillmorton and it is assumed that now Julian no longer has any reason to delay their marriage. But the contested will, which drags on for two years, upsets plans and disturbs a number of lives. Scenes are set in the House of Lords, in the clubs and drawing rooms of the rich, in lawyers' offices, and a multitude of upper-class characters are presented, offering their comments on the kind of lives they lead. For the most part they are a crowd whose expectations are over, whose ambitions and disappointments have been adjusted, but in some cases they have attained the status of elder statesmen. The tone therefore is occasionally elegiac though this does not detract from its transcendent moments -- the dying of a proud man, the healing of a sick one, the rationale of a woman fated to love beneath her. All in all a thoughtful and a rewarding book.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1974
Publisher: Scribners