A surprisingly joyless entry from the Australian satirist (Foxybaby; The Sugar Mother; etc.), which takes the loss of innocence as its theme, but remains so narratively fuzzy that it's hard to tell where naivetâ€š lets off and worldliness begins. Jolley's focus is young Vera Wright, a British nurse-in-training during WW II, fresh out of boarding school, and still essentially a child. At St. Cuthberts Hospital, she plays her comparison game, wherein she rates herself against her fellows; mounts devious, schoolgirlish plots against a roommate who dissatisfies her; notices a regal staff nurse named Ramsden, who will become her love and mentor; and falls in with a smoothly lecherous doctor--""Dr. Metcalf, Jonathan,"" as she habitually addresses him, since she's unable to make herself simply use his first name. As Vera stumbles toward unwed motherhood--and abandonment by the good doctor--Jolley flashes forward, to Vera's brief time at a school called Fairfields, where she works and lives with her daughter, Helena, and back, to her childhood, when it appears she was a particularly beastly little girl. At the end of this brief novel, we're left to intuit, rather than know, that Vera has moved--successfully, albeit grimly--through her spiritual coming-of-age. This is, in fact, grim through and through. The interlocking short-story form Jolley's chosen muddies rather than clarifies; Vera's voice grows claustrophic; and, alas, only on rare occasions does the author let her gift for skewed comedy off the leash.