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This latest offering from British author Langley (From the Broken Tree, 1978, etc.) again straddles the boundaries of pulp and serious fiction. An exotic landscape helps keep the book interesting on both counts. The main characters, however, have stifled their emotions to such a point that the scenery offers them only a choice between hardship and boredom. In 1899, Elizabeth, age 17, newly married and full of a dangerous enthusiasm, journeys with her husband to his military post in the Andaman Islands, a British penal colony off the coast of India. Eight decades later James, the son who was born on these islands, travels back with his wife, Daisy, in a last-ditch effort to learn the truth about his mother's mysterious death. While we hear much talk of the excitement and adoration James and Daisy shared in the early days of their marriage, little of that is in evidence upon meeting them. In fact, both marriages -- Elizabeth and her martial husband; James and Daisy -- are formal, laced with a British sort of iciness and alienation. Tedious at times, the book's first sections handle such issues as overt prejudice and perfunctory marriage with lyrical skill. Not until the middle of the book do we begin to see matters clearly. The birth of their second child nearly killed Daisy and made James realize that ""he had broken his own rule: never trust people who say they love you. People you depend on. They let you down. They go off, die, disappear. Abandon you."" If the narrative lags at the book's start, the pace picks up quickly, along with the drama, once readers have a better sense of the events behind James's actions. In fact the story snaps to life. Readers who have guessed the end have probably guessed wrong, while those who resisted guesswork won't be able to put the book down.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
Page count: 328pp
Publisher: Milkweed