A faintly melancholy portrait of the comedies inherent in middle age, by an Irish novelist (The Road to Notown, 1997) who makes optimum use of his Celtic wit. Like many an Irishman before him, Martin Ward went abroad to seek his fortune—in his case conceived of in literary rather than monetary terms. A scholar of French literature, he finds in the decadence of Baudelaire and Huysman, Villiers and Rimbaud an escape from the narrow-minded pettiness of Ulster (where he was born and raised) and the narrow-minded cosmopolitanism of London (where he teaches at a convent school for girls). An Irish Catholic who feels about as comfortable with the Roman Church as he does with the English Crown, Martin nevertheless decided that, since he already knew from his own experience how to deal with the clergy, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour would be a more comfortable berth than the tough secular school where he first taught when he came to London in the 1970s. His wife, Clare, is maternal without exactly qualifying as old-fashioned, and she begins to tire of her husband not long after the birth of their son, Paul. Flirtations among the faculty ensue, but Martin retreats deeper and deeper into French literature, leaving Clare a wide field to play on her own. She finds Nick, a young Englishman whose wild insouciance serves as a good antidote to Martin’s caution, and the affair doesn—t long remain secret. For Martin, this is all part of the London game, and he reflects with only a little regret upon how far he has come from Ulster. He is less secure in his feelings about the future, however, contemplating his vita nuova with some apprehension. Thoughtful and touching: Martin’s sense of humor and of the absurd keep him well clear of self-pity—although Foley’s narration stays rather dry and introverted.