THE RUSSIAN GIRL
As pleasantly cantankerous as ever, the venerable Kingsley Amis (We Are All Guilty, 1992) once again casts his gimlet eye on the vanities of the age. Breezy drawing-room comedy here disguises his serious commentary on the relations between art and politics. Coming from Amis, of course, this 21st novel is also another salvo in the war between the sexes. Richard Vaisey, a distinguished scholar of Russian literature at the London Institute of Slavonic Studies, gladly suffers marriage to his peculiar wife, Cordelia, a beautiful heiress with an odd accent and a talent for pinching pennies. Once Richard's attentions begin to focus on the visiting poet, Anna Danilova, he realizes how truly nasty Cordelia is. Anna, for her part, poses a more interesting problem. She has come to England to enlist support for her ne'er-do-well brother, a petty convict in a Soviet jail. Because this is set before the collapse of communism, her plan involves establishing herself as an important artisitic critic of the regime. Unfortunately, Richard thinks her poetry is dreck, an opinion shared by the famous novelist in exile, Kotolynov. While Richard's best friend, the wealthy Czech, Crispin Radetsky, enlists the powerful in Anna's support, Richard himself comes undone. He neglects his students; Cordelia disappears; and he finally understands what a "randy bastard" he's become. Running off with Anna is a matter of prudence, not morality, for Richard, who contemplates the severe financial consequences of his act. Meanwhile, the scorned Cordelia proves to be a shrew of truly Amis-like dimensions, orchestrating her revenge with totalitarian glee. Though Richard compromises his sense of artistic merit for his love of Anna, things turn out okay in the end. After all, everyone here is terribly droll and sophisticated when it comes to plain adultery. Vintage Amis -- as divisive, compelling, and hilarious as the Bobbitt trial.