A British doyenne of elegantly savage modern comedies of manners returns to form with a cautionary tale of childcare.
Weldon (Mantrapped, 2004, etc.), with some 24 novels and numerous nonfiction works and short-story collections to her name, has a justified reputation as one of the most acerbic judges of human and gender frailty. In this latest mixture of family saga and morality fable, Hattie and Martyn, a couple of 30-something unmarried London yuppies, bear the brunt of her scrutiny, representatives of the comfy, left-leaning middle classes who claim to live by their principles but only, it turns out, when it suits their needs. After the birth of their first child puts financial pressure on the household, they decide to employ a married, Polish au pair, Agnieszka, whose arrival restores marvelous order to the domestic chaos: Hattie can go back to work; the couple’s sex life can resume; and all manner of other compensations follow, which help the pair swallow their repugnance at employing what is in effect a servant. But Agnieszka is not quite what she seems—neither Polish, nor married. The story is narrated by Hattie’s grandmother, Frances, who interleaves the Agnieszka episodes with anecdotes from the larger family. References to the mitochondrial line recur, as Weldon, taking the long view, expands her theme of genealogical descent via the female side. Too many characters are invoked here, but Weldon’s domestic observations and aphorisms are nevertheless to be relished, as is the surprising conclusion.
Sly, salty, savvy.