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At 17, in 1982, Vernon won England's Author's Club Award for a comfortable novel (Privileged Children) about not too eccentric Britons; this year, the author has returned to trace the further quiet adventures of some of the same characters--especially Finola Parnell and her very model of a modern Christian husband, Gerard. Gerard, a sometime barrister and heir to an estate in Combe Chalcot, Dorset, is an upright if weak man, who, after ""a successful examination of his conscience. . .always wanted to make love""--but only with his sweet wife, Finola. She bears him two strapping children and succeeds (where Gerard fails) in dislodging his impossible mother from the manor after Gerard's father dies. In a delightfully bristling set-to, the two women politely blast each other: ""I really do rather dislike you from the bottom of my heart,"" says mother Constance to Finola before agreeing to move out. At last installed in Combe Chalcot, Finola realizes that Gerard holds her brazen actions against her, which sends Finola on an exploration of matters extramarital. However, when Winston Lowell, a career bureaucrat, merely tries to kiss her, she goes scuttling back to Gerard. A full two years later, Gerard finally admits that his coldness brought on Finola's wanderings--and then the sudden death of their new baby, Isabella, further reunites the Parnells. A careful study of mostly pleasant people, who, as Gerard would say, are ""very scarce, and should be encouraged""--by a young writer who treats her subjects intelligently and humanely.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Michael Joseph--dist. by David & Charles