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A modest first novel, about the coming-of-age summer of a self-centered English narrator who ""had lost the knack of being alone."" When Helen leaves Simon, he decides to take refuge with his parents, but they're off to Africa to visit his brother. So, finished with school but not yet employed or set on a career, he wanders about London aimlessly, as the reader listens to his fantasies about murdering Helen with a swordstick (""neatly, like a surgeon"") and to his reveries and walk-about thoughts--some of them nicely descriptive--until he gets hit by a car and wakes in the hospital. After more stray thoughts, a visit to a launderette, and additional slice-of-life instances (again, adroitly handled), he goes back to the hospital for a biopsy. Seriously sick, he starts to see Helen again (""Oh, God, Simon, let's be friends""), but he still carries his overweening adolescence like a flame (""The future has no shape, you know that"") as he corresponds with his brother in Africa, argues with Helen, and takes a solitary car ride, and, again in hospital for exploratory surgery, begins to face up: ""All summer my: eyes had been wide open but my sensations had been damped by numbness: something happened but the appropriate response did not happen. . ."" The book deepens Simon in its reasonably understated way, and Simon's predicament (which makes him more sympathetic) becomes lightly resonant: ""Life hasn't lived up to my hopes. . ., "" he admits, and finally he and Helen talk tit-for-tat. By the end of the slender story, Simon has reached a tentative rapprochement with life that is neither overstated nor too neatly laid out. Illis' debut novel often tends to read like precocious journal notations, but this is a good take on the bittersweet end of adolescence nonetheless.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Viking