A PARISH OF RICH WOMEN by James Buchan

A PARISH OF RICH WOMEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Occasionally striking but more often arch and pretentious: the London/Beirut driftings of a young British writer--who sees parallels (none of them very convincing) between the decadent decline of upper-class Britain and the violent fracturings in Lebanon circa 1982. Adam Murray, product of Oxford and other privileged backgrounds, has just returned to London from a stint in the Middle East; he's now ready to write his book on the Palestine problem. But Adam finds himself drinking instead of working, rejoining his off-and-on lover Mary and their dreary, druggie, well-born Smart Set; their agenda includes partner-swapping, aimless partying, and effete repartee. (""Why don't we all have some nice heroin and forget this little contretemps."") Adam does some uninspired musing on Big Questions: ""Why, why, why, if the universe is adequately explained without God, why propose him?"" He becomes especially sour about his social circle after finding Mary in bed with foul Oliver ""Oddjob"" Thwaite. (""All this futile, sometimes violent, activity. What's it all for?. . . We're behaving like barbarians. . . It's worse than Beirut."") He discusses the Mideast situation with Jocelyn ""Jolly"" Ambrose, an elderly dandy/scholar who seems to be partly based on Sir Harold Acton. But then Israel invades Lebanon. So, in the novel's second half, Adam returns to Beirut--to make contact with old friend Johnny Penrose (a Lawrence-of-Arabia to the PLO), to witness several wartime horrors, to unleash chunks of standard rhetoric. (Beirut is ""dying of apathy, dying of people sitting all day on their balconies and staring out to sea, dying of rats and wild dogs and rubbish that nobody bothers to burn any more, dying of despair shot through with panic."") Finally, however, after witnessing the sacrifices of Johnny and Palestinian doctor Kate, Adams feels ""something firm and safe"" beneath the sufferings and the barbarism. The fragmentary close-ups of the Lebanon situation here will be confusing to neophytes--while more knowledgeable readers will find Buchan naive and simplistic. (Even not-so-knowledgeable readers will be stunned or bewildered by the publisher's catalogue-description of the novel--which refers to Lebanon as ""Palestine."") Stray bits of subplot, including a bygone spy-mystery, are ineffectually sprinkled in and around the presumptuous snarl of themes. And, though a few of the vignettes flare with telling detail and sardonic observation, this first novel--winner of England's David Higham Prize--is neither diverting as social satire (Adam's chums are merely tiresome) nor persuasive as a chronicle of rising political consciousness.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1985
Publisher: Atheneum