Six months in the life of a quiet but special and appealing English family--from a British writer (not seen here since The Prism, 1963) whose direct, effectively spare narration is all too frequently interrupted by overwritten stretches, drippy platitudes, and saccharine speeches. Michael and Caroline Lambert have been happily married for nearly 20 years. They live in a wonderful old farmhouse in England's west country. He runs the local bookstore, having declined to follow in his entrepreneur father's footsteps. She runs the hectic household--five kids, visits from Michael's divorced, disapproving mother and others--and paints when she can find time. But during these six months from May to October, the Lamberts will have to give up their comforting status quo and find ""harmony"" (one of Lash's goopily overworked catch-words) on different terms: the bookstore's deficits have gotten out of hand, and it must be sold (for Michael it has become a ""dull, narrow trap""); Caroline is offered a one-woman show, and, perhaps influenced by women's-lib chums (though she cheerfully rejects their propaganda), decides to summer alone, painting in a cottage in France; and, most traumatic, finances are such that the Lamberts must sell their beloved house and find a whole new lifestyle--in the city of Bristol. Throughout, Lash avoids all the usual family-fiction pitfalls--soap opera, situation comedy, melodrama--and instead accumulates authentic, resonating details, from grandparental visits to dinner-time sound effects. She's especially good with the varied (but perhaps too-sweet) Lambert kids, like youngest girl Patch--who ""cared immensely that her clothes should be clean. She had a longing for white socks that was almost a desire too powerful to handle."" But when it comes to Michael and Caroline's perfect loving devotion, the dialogue turns to pure treacle: ""There is something in the earth, in the air, something that stirs and sustains man always, in spite of himself. And it is also within us. It is within those moments we have shared. Those special moments. . . ."" And at any moment here, without warning, Lash may slip into a love-and-harmony sermonette of startling banality. Read this, then, for the tenderly vivid evocation of decent, plain family life--but watch out for those very sticky patches.