SECRET LIVES by Max Egremont


Email this review


Only inveterate Anglophiles will enjoy this warmed-over tale of upper-class love by British novelist Egremont (The Ladies' Man, 1983; Dear Shadows, 1987). The narrator, tpyical of the genre, is middle class and therefore an outsider who never quite understands what is going on--if indeed anything really is. Egremont tries to be different, teasing us with hints of clark secrets and neuroses as he tells the story of the Layburn family of Cragham. The Layburns are the right stuff, with even a viceroy in their past, but the times have changed: the Victorian Wing has had to be converted into apartments, and aging WW II hero and longtime widower Bob Layburn lives a life of freezing frugality amidst the fading splendor. When Bob decides that some of the family pictures, including the portrait of his long-dead wife Catherine, need cleaning, he contacts the Harman Institute, where his old army chum, Philip Bligh, once worked. The Institute sends young George Loftus, son of a hardware-store owner and therefore beyond the pale, up to Cragham. While Loftus works on the paintings in the library, he comes across the diaries of Catherine, the late Mrs. Layburn, which reveal the story of her unhappy marriage to hero Bob, her great friendship with Bligh, and her liberating affair with the understanding war-refugee Stefan. Loftus tries to find out more, but there doesn't seem much more to learn, which leaves him confused about the upper classes, and Bob as enigmatic as ever. Creaky plot devices--without the convenient find of the diary there would be no book--and characters straight out of Masterpiece Theater do not a good novel make. But for the admirers of Country House chic and chintz, a pleasant if aimless read.

Pub Date: July 16th, 1990
Publisher: Dutton