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Veteran English feminist novelist Figes (Waking, 1981; Light, 1983; The Seven Ages, 1986) takes her talent for minimalist psychological sketches in an eerie, often ineffective portrait of an elderly woman robbed of her identity. ""[The hotel clerk] watched my hand slide across the page as I signed a false name and address""--so begins the amnesiac journey of Nelly, a ""lumpy,"" withered conventional-minded widow (as it turns out) who discovers herself in a provincial English hotel with no memory of how she arrived there, who she is, or why she is carrying a suitcase full of cash. All she knows is that she can't rid herself of a sensation of waiting for someone to arrive--a contact, she thinks, to explain and possibly take away the cash. During the days of Nelly's waiting, she wanders the lanes of the small town near the hotel, and meets people who seem to recognize her--though always with some disturbing, indecipherable emotion or gruesome aftermath. (One day, an old woman who seems to be Nelly's childhood playmate is beaten just after Nelly leaves her, and an empty house she straggles through is immediately burned to the ground.) Eventually, a callow, conventional young man arrives, claiming to be Nelly's son, and for lack of any strong resources of resistance, Nelly falls into the life he and the other people she has encountered claim is hers: widow, mother, lonely old woman ensconced in an eerily echoing house somewhere on the outskirts of--well, everything. One explanation of all this is that Nelly has been ill and lost her memory--or, at least, most of it: Nelly is her name. Another is that the author intends to give us a grim portrait of an old woman in a cruel, depersonalized world. Either way, sour, suspenseless reading; and what does happen to the cash?

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 1988
ISBN: 1564783138
Publisher: Pantheon