HEAVEN AND EARTH by Frederic Raphael


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Raphael, author of a slew of novels, collections and screenplays including Oxbridge Blues, Two For the Road and, most notably, BBC-produced The Glittering Prizes of seven years ago, returns here to the theme of exile from the hallowed halls and select society of Oxbridge. Heaven and Earth in addition surrounds its fallen Cambridge angel with the harsh realities of an England that, like a cauldron, brews the mindless violence witnessed this past spring at football matches on the Continent and the Sceptred Isle itself. Intelligent, caring, funny Gideon Shand--a man who, for the love of his good Jewish friend Stephen Hellman, abdicated a well-nigh assured position as college don by condemning the anti-Semitic magnum opus of a colleague--finds himself, 20 years later, stuck in the ugly town of Chaworth, researching TV documentaries, translating your odd French novel, raising son Tom and daughter Miranda, doing schtick with his wife Pamela, hoping for the demise of his stolid mother and the consequent cracking of the trust-fund golden egg. Until then, though, the lights of his life are his family, his bridge games and his friendship with Stephen, who has done much better for himself since Cambridge; he's a successful lawyer, has a pampered wife, Miriam, and a country home in Suffolk that undergoes redesign as often as the mood strikes Stephen. Then, violence in Chaworth against Gideon's young son (among others) sends the Shands to idyllic Quince Cottage near the Hellmans, chosen by the Hellmans, financed by the Hellmans, redecorated by the Hellmans. Not surprisingly, the Shands come to resent the incessant kindnesses of the Hellmans (does one include among these Miriam's brazen attempts to seduce Gideon?), and the reader comes to resent the coy eleventh-hour revelation that Gideon's daughter is really Stephen's. Not to worry, for teenage Miranda knows and takes it all as levelly as she does losing her virginity to her beloved's male lover in the presence and at the request of her beloved, who is, one might add, a cleric. Gideon, however, need no longer feel indebted to Stephen when his mother literally goes up in smoke, freeing up the inheritance; but he feels less sanguine about wife Pam's rape by one of his ex-students and her admission of continued love for his best friend. Though Raphael successfully creates a Pinteresque feeling, especially as the novel progresses, one can't help but wonder what's the point. Questions such as Can a Gentile love a Jew? and Whence springeth violence? dance across the surface of this book but never make a home. Dialogue is, as in earlier works, Raphael's forte, although the too many characters sound too much alike. So, all in all, a novel perhaps for devoted Raphael fans; for others, a Frederic Raphael to miss.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Beaufort