An odd quintet of amusing, occasionally touching, intimate profiles of some family and friends of an English editor and author, from pre-WW I through the 50's. The portraits--low-keyed, remote--float above the autobiographical narration as if on a fight breeze. The title story tells a happily nasty little tale about some strange sexual preoccupations of a ten-year-old schoolboy, both buggered and bewildered, and the friend to whom he's left a lifelong conundrum. The last tale, an entertaining farce, hilariously materializes a toiling author's fictional characters--invented to guard his home against intrusions by two well-meaning friends. In between, there's a tribute to the woollybrained but endearing inhabitants of a handsome old manor. Then the author turns to ""family"": half-brother Jack, scandalizer and womanizer, who died in the Arab-Israeli war (on the Arab side), his progress oddly marked in life by the adventures of an effigy of the Egyptian god Horus; and half-sister Ursula, an expansively loving soul, who fell deeply in love with black actress Ruby, with whom she lived for years in America. Ursula's all-embracing innocence excused all varieties of egoism (there's a ripe selection of her oddball friends), but her ferocity of absolute love could ""leave one disarmed and vulnerable to the most trivial adversary."" Interwoven among these profiles are offhand-but-telling sketches of a vital, expansive father and a loving mother, and chitchat that flurries about like confetti from a long-ago wedding. Civilized, pleasant, yet somehow unengaged.