The haunting tale of a middle-aged drag queen caught in England at the advent of WW I, by a British poet and author of two previous novels who is only now making his American debut--a grievous oversight in light of this luminous and intelligent prose. Jack Shuttleworth never knew his mother, though he envisioned her often enough as a tearful young actress who tossed her illegitimate infant out the window of a slow-moving train, rather than murder him as a less warmhearted woman might. Jack is found beside the tracks by villagers in northern England and raised in a local workhouse, but his feminine good looks lead to an apprenticeship in the weaving mills instead of down in the coal pits with the men. As a nine-year-old, he soon runs away to work in a nearby inn, where he finds his mÇtier in the performance of comic female impersonations in that bawdy establishment's weekend variety shows. Longing to please his audiences yet terrified by their disdain, Jack shuttles between ecstasy and despair as he struggles to establish his identity as a self-created woman, while a secondary career as mistress to two ``antiques''--elderly gentlemen who keep him--offers keen and amusing insight into the reality of being female in turn-of-the-century England. As WW I begins warming up across the English Channel, Jack finds himself widowed by his favorite keeper (who rechristened him ``Camellia Snow''), cast out by the man's sister, and forced to wander in a gypsy caravan among England's northern villages, a now-aging transvestite, aimless vagabond, and tragicomic victim of his tumultuous age. Marvelously original--the work of a wise and stimulating mind.