A PAUSE FOR BREATH by Edith Reveley


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Bea Chesterman, just-married to a 1960s British diplomat, undergoes marital crises and West Africa culture-shock--in this ironically styled, modestly engaging first novel. Her new husband Hugh is a dozen years older, obsessed with his work, dismissive of Bea's intellect and critical of her performance as a diplomat's wife. They live in a barren suburb, outside the capital of a newly independent nation, with two house-servants--one wily, one half-witted. The other diplomatic wives in the area tend to be catty, aggressive, bridge-playing mothers. So young Bea is bored at best, then increasingly sour about colonialism, Hugh (should she have married him?), and the secretly brutal regime of Chief Adewole--which is being challenged, ever more seriously, by a rebel corporal and far-flung guerrillas. A series of upsetting incidents follows: the infant daughter of half-wit servant Joseph is critically ill in a local hospital, with no one able to explain modern medicine to the distraught father; Boa and a car-ful of friends are attacked by the guerrillas; a W.H.O. representative speaks out convincingly about the disastrous effects of the government's baby-formula program; Boa falls ill, with lots of time in the hospital to recall her past (a stormy bohemian love-affair, abortion) and ponder her ambivalence about Hugh. But then, just after Boa and Hugh have a dreadful row, the army/guerrilla coup takes place: Hugh is kidnapped along with Chief Adewole, both of them presumed dead. And by the time Hugh is found alive (if traumatized), Boa has recognized her own over-romantic, immature failings--so the couple seems headed for reconciliation and happiness, with lots of ""concessions, pacts, compromises"" ahead. . . on both sides. Reveley, herself a diplomat's wife, textures this small, familiar story with odd, beguiling details and characters--from Chief Adewole's eccentric/literary Irish wife to a sharp, wry, Americanized native doctor. Also appealing (though unlikely to please feminists) is her avoidance of caricature and awakening-clichÉs in Boa's view of her chauvinist husband. In all: an unremarkable but crisply fashioned debut--with prose that's check-a-block with dry, clever imagery in the British-comic tradition.

Pub Date: Dec. 14th, 1983
Publisher: Overlook--dist. by Viking