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 naivetÇ 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.