The 1991 Whitbread Award winner, by the English author of Crusoe's Daughter (1986), etc., sardonically traces the steady fall (or is it rise?) into madness of a suburban wife with too little to do and too many horrors to shut out of her mind. The neighbors have always considered Eliza Peabody eccentric, with with her loudly voiced opinions, fearless stride, and the pious, admonishing notes she distributes for their enlightenment and edification. But when one of those notes--to Joan, across the street--incites that elusive woman to abandon her family for far more exotic locales, Eliza seems really to go off the deep end. Her blizzard of follow-up notes to Joan, which comprise all of Gardam's story, first rush to apologize for her forwardness, then capably detail Eliza's efforts to care for Joan's gloomy husband as they wait for the prodigal wife's return. Eliza envies Joan's courage and adventurousness, being herself a well-educated but rather stodgy woman whose life as the childless spouse of a Foreign Office official has petered out into mindless rounds of volunteer work and shopping. Her notes explore the secrets of the suburb's other residents while resolutely ignoring the fact that Eliza's husband has eloped with Joan's, that Joan's unmarried, college-aged daughter has gotten pregnant, and that Eliza herself, in her terrible loneliness, has begun to neglect her garden, her home, and herself. Eliza may be going insane--her neighbors have begun to treat her with the wary kindness one reserves for the near-psychotic--but at least she's lost her self-righteous edge. As her letters move from stilted lectures to multiple-paged flights of glorious fancy, the roots of her misery begin to emerge, until all her inventions seem a perfectly rational response to the events that prefaced her destruction. A loony, funny tale--and an author with a refreshing take on the familiar.