A characteristic blend of social and sexual satire from Weldon (Rhode Island Blues, 2000, etc.).
Grace Salt, 55, has just served a 15-month jail sentence for trying to run over 32-year-old Doris Dubois, the ultra-polished host of trendy TV show ArtsWorld Extra who has made off with Grace’s husband, real-estate developer Barley. All three are dismayed to find themselves collectively in attendance at a charity event where a portrait of hostess Lady Juliet Random will be auctioned off to benefit her pet cause, Little Children, Everywhere. Doris lusts after Lady Juliet’s $275,000 Bulgari necklace. Barley loves to buy his new wife jewelry but is financially overextended while he waits for government approval of the Opera Noughtie development in Edinburgh. Grace is disconcerted to find herself pursued by the portrait’s painter, 29-year-old Walter Wells, though that doesn’t prevent her from ending up in bed with him after she impulsively makes the winning bid on it. Their affair steadily trims years off Grace and adds them to Walter; by the time her self-absorbed son arrives from Australia, she looks young enough to be his sister. Doris, maddened by Grace’s good luck, pursues Walter to paint her portrait and drugs him into having sex with her. She’s a classic Weldon villain, from her total self-absorption to her viciousness with employees even when it’s manifestly against her self-interest. (She fires the assistant whose research makes her look knowledgeable on the air.) Most of the other characters are quite lightly sketched, though always with Weldon’s customary cogency; similarly, the running jokes about endless house renovations and menacing Russian investors are amusing but hardly new. Nonetheless, when it all comes to a head at the party Doris throws for Barley’s 60th birthday (typically, she doesn’t know he’s actually turning 59), readers can only rejoice at her comeuppance and enjoy the mayhem.
Weldon’s not exactly challenging herself here, but she’s still one of the sharpest, most entertaining novelists around.