THE SUGAR MOTHER by Elizabeth Jolley


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Coming on the heels of Jolley's disappointing The Newspaper of Claremont Street, this new effort brings a clearing air from Australia's premier satirist, as well as another strange bird from the Jolley menagerie--doleful Edwin Page, an English professor left to his own devices when his wife, Cecilia, takes a year's sabbatical in Canada. Edwin is content at first to spend the time checking his body carefully for signs of illness and making copious notes in his journals. But then tacky Mrs. Bott and her nubile daughter, Leila, rent the house next door and insinuate themselves upon him. Mother Bott cooks up tempting dinners (full of foods Edwin once eschewed), while Leila peeks at him shyly from the living room. Edwin is so consumed with lust for Leila that he forgets to ""examine himself for blemishes and symptoms."" Soon he gets her pregnant; Mrs. Bott has no complaints--indeed, she blithely proposes Leila as a surrogate mother--or, as she puts it, ""a surrated mother, sugared whatsit, thingumajig sugar mother. . .Better than adopting, like a cake you've made yourself."" Edwin can't quite bring himself to tell Cecilia about the impending addition to the Page family, so he's stuck with a newborn son, an undying passion for Leila, and a wife due home any day. Dr. Page is a fine centerpiece here--at once comic and pathetic--but at the abrupt close, Jolley abandons him to thrash in his own muddle. The result is a tale that's oddly diverting (as Jolley can occasionally be), made odder still by its lack of finish.

Pub Date: June 29th, 1988
ISBN: 0892553626
Publisher: Harper & Row