British gardening-writer Saville (The Marriage Bed, p. 21) returns, this time with a thinly veiled soap opera, in the guise of a novel on modern marriage, that offends on many counts, not the least in its portrayal of women. Elfie Lyle is approaching middle age in the midst of a quaint country life in the Cotswolds: Husband Hugh is a successful antiques dealer; Elfie works in the back of the shop restoring paintings; the pair have a lovely home, expansive garden, and two loyal whippets--all the trappings of provincial happiness. And indeed they are happy until Elfie hears her biological clock ticking, challenging Hugh's dictate of no children. In his 60s (20 years older than Elfie), with a ruined marriage behind him and two adult children, Hugh is looking toward retirement, not new fatherhood. Sister Judith's advice to Elfie is to have an ``accident,'' blindsiding Hugh with a (supposedly) unplanned pregnancy. Meanwhile, other domestic couplings are explored, offering a veritable catalogue of marriage patterns. Elfie's parents seem to represent companionable old age, while Judith and Giles are an indifferent, dispassionate couple with grown, troublesome children. Neighbors Philip and Martha have a more volatile union, with Martha a shrewish social butterfly, Philip a henpecked beekeeper. Additionally, their teenage daughter Tabitha is maligned for the sexual temptation she presents to Nick, the antique shop's delivery boy. Elfie and Philip have a quick affair, Elfie becomes pregnant, and rumors start to fly. Whether or not Hugh finds out the truth, whether Elfie confesses, whether Martha returns to Philip after storming out and ravaging their rose garden--all seem immaterial in the face of relentlessly colorless characterizations. Further, an underlying theme portrays all of the women as tempters, deceivers, and manipulators who need a lesson in passivity, while the men are invariably hapless, sympathetic victims of women's plots. Obvious and unmoving.