THE OTHER GARDEN by Francis Wyndham


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Slight if sometimes graceful little novel about eccentric cruelties in British upper-classers circa WW II; winner of the Whitbread Prize in England for best first novel of 1987. An unnamed male narrator tells the story of the alluringly but unconventionally beautiful Kay Demarest (she's in her 30's at novel's start; he's a decade or so less), whose snobbily aristocratic parents seem intent on exorcising her from their affections, if not repudiating her right to live altogether. The narrator first comes to know Kay when (evading the disapproval of her parents) she comes to sunbathe in ""the other garden""--a formal plot kept by the narrator's father for his own solitary rambles (it later, after the father's death, falls into disrepair). Kay's life from this start becomes intertwined with the narrator's, and they remain companionable friends as Kay's eccentricities (she's flamboyant, loose-living, impulsive) increasingly manifest themselves, and as her life fails to find direction. During WW II, she lives with her parents, who persecute her with their chill scorn and idiosyncratic cruelties (near the end, before she flees to war-endangered London, they take to locking her out of the house)--although why all this should happen is never made entirely clear, unless it may have to do with the faintly incestuous favoritism that Kay's mother feels for Kay's one sibling, the movie-star-handsome (and aspiring actor) Sandy. While Sandy is taken prisoner by the Germans (he's an RAF flyer), Kay is stood up by a GI lover and deliberately stops paying attention to her looks (to ""the accepted manifestations of feminine charm""). Remaining a friend of the narrator's (and of the narrator's acquaintance via a stint at Oxford, the flagrantly ""queer"" Denis Bellamy), Kay takes up a homeless dog named Havoc, falls into a spiraling emotional decline when the dog is lost, and ends up dying of TB (a disease that also visits the narrator and the preciously dilettantish Denis Bellamy). At end, concludes the narrator, Kay has been ""to all intents mid purposes. . .destroyed by her parents,"" sacrificed in a ""metaphorical murder."" Not satisfyingly clear in exploring the psychosexual springs that seem to he compressed at its heart, the book swings between the mannered and the delicately observant, providing minor pleasures of place and time while suggesting more than it finally offers.

Pub Date: June 10th, 1988
Publisher: Moyer Bell