BIRD OF PARADISE by Diana Stainforth


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Stainforth's debut novel--a British best seller--offers up a platter heaped with the delectables of commercial women's fiction: A German orphan girl turns flapper fashion plate, petted automobile scion's wife, race-car driver and Paris bohemian during the days between the two great wars, all the while searching for something challenging to do with herself and clamoring after the affections of a dedicated young American doctor. On close inspection, though, the stuff the platter groans under is more than a little ripe. Mara Vogel is just 17 when WW I ends, taking with it her brother, mother and father. Lost too is her virginity (to a German police officer who promises to help her find her father when, in truth, he's already dead). Mara yields up her body again, this time much more willingly, to an American doctor, Jamie Turner, who commandeers her house for use as a hospital. But when a British soldier, Alexander Rushton, asks for her hand (partly because he thinks he killed her brother during the Christmas trace of 1914), Mara agrees, since Jamie doesn't seem loath to let her go, and Alexander offers the security of his father's millions gotten in the production of the luxurious Rushton-Gaunt automobiles. So it's off to England, where she must face post-war hostility to Germans and a motley crew of in-laws, among them Old Man Rushton, a former coachman who single-handedly created the Rushton-Gaunt empire. Mara's husband turns out to be a milquetoast (""He doesn't make me want him the way I want to want""), reluctant to let her race the Rushton roadster, though she does anyway and wins. Then Jamie turns up in England, just as Alexander's diagnosed as fatally ill, and Mara, for the first time in her 20 odd years, makes a selfless choice in taking her husband to the south of France to prolong his feeble life for a couple more years. Jamie stops by in Provence long enough to treat Alexander and get Mars pregnant, and, of course, they meet again in Paris after Alexander's breathed his last and Mara's inherited control of Rushton-Gaunt. One wishes only that Mars were a little more charismatic a character, a little less petulant and meagerly inconsistent. Lots of 1920's detail here, but somehow that period, as created in this novel, doesn't roar.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Crown