Kirkus Star


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The English author of a Sensible Life (1990) and other witty, elegant novels continues her cheerful splaying out of human rottenness eruptions of goodness and general asininity--all with a faint brushing of enchantment. Here, in an ancient, lakeside, woodside estate (viewed in time slices from 1944 to 1990), a dear man of admirable affections has been cursed with a marital legacy from a deceased, high-minded father. To Cotteshaw, the country house of Henry Tilotson, come Barbara and Antonia, ""two determined little beauties"" who think Henry is rather ""dishy."" The young things have just accepted the proposals of two rather stodgy young men, thereby escaping boring jobs and parents (""all the usual"" reasons). Meanwhile, in Midsummer Night's Dream fashion, the lovers quarrel, love, and stalk off by wood and water as preparation for an outdoor dinner party gets underway. Anticipation shimmers, but upstairs--where she stays all the time--is beautiful Margaret, the bad fairy--Henry's simply awful, horrid wife. Finally, the guests arrive: a sweet homosexual couple, a brace of bores, the lovers, an old flame of Henry's and her husband, and the servants--a faithful retainer and a mother and son rescued years ago, by Henry's father, from death in Spain. It's happy time by the dark woods--until it's ""ill met by moonlight"" when Margaret arrives to perform savage and terrible acts, scattering the feast and wits. Years later, Margaret will drown (a joyous event with mystery attached). Also as the years pass--alas--lovely girls grow old (but there are secrets), and Henry leaves, unlike his father's ""dubious legacy,"" something quite marvelous. As always, the dialogue snaps with vigor, and there are delightful signature touches (e.g., animals have a haunting presence--from Henry's Greek chorus of dogs to the antic cockatoo, Margaret's sacrificial victim). For Wesley fans: another bright and biting novel.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1992
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Viking