PEOPLE AT PLAY by Elizabeth Berridge


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By the author of the neat, modestly penetrating Across the Common (1965): a more ambitious, less successful study of isolated souls in London circa 1968--without the intensity or depth to support the considerable surface distress. Stani Spolianski, a 35-ish clerk, British-born but unhappily multi-ethnic (Polish/Jewish/ Scottish), lives as quasi-landlord in the three-storey building owned by old Mrs. Bannister; meanwhile, Mrs. B. and Stani's war-widow mother (longtime housekeeper to the Bannisters) have converted another family property--a Victorian house in the suburbs--into a casual old folks' home. And now the Bannister daughter--Della, Stani's childhood playmate--has returned to England from a miserable marriage to a German POW. With only a few quiet events, then (Mrs. Bannister's death, a Christmas party), Berridge moves her focus through this array of withdrawn personalities, some of whom reach out for contact a bit: Mrs. Bannister, deserted by her husband long ago, retreating into the highly controllable world of dolls; Stani's mother, secure only in her set, kitchen-ly duties; the elderly residents of the home; Della, literally deaf to much of the outside world (""We're such stones,"" she accurately tells StanD; and Stani himself, a repressed loner, who lets himself go at last--in a harmlessly kinky relationship with a 15-year-old gardener's daughter (symbol of the Swinging Sixties)--yet finds that this only brings him gratuitous pain. (""He no longer believed that the world hurt you only if you hurt it first. . . he wasn't going to give people or things power by believing in them."") In all: a number of sad/ironic character vignettes, with the promising sketch of an intriguing postwar mÉnage--but far too little novelistic shape or momentum.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1982
Publisher: William Heinemann--dist. by David & Charles