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With some wickedly crafty portraits, this Irish author, published here for the first time, pinpricks beneath the crusty ""good behaviour"" of some strenuously leisured Irish gentry in the 1920s, thus exposing a particularly refined brand of savagery. Principal victim is young Aroon St. Charles--who, as a child and young woman, is at the mercy of her own timid, vulnerable nature and at the mercy of Mummie, an icy and elegant woman who loathes children, sociability, and housekeeping, whose every remark is a bare bodkin. Aroon and younger brother Hubert, therefore, concentrate on drawing out affection from charming Papa, a marvelous horseman and discreet womanizer who's only impressed by the children's equestrian expertise. Lavish love, then, comes only from their governess, that plump partridge Mrs. Brock, whom they adore--but Mrs. Brock, a veteran of rejection who aches to love, will (helped along by the dreadful servant known as Wild Rose) end up as a suicide. And somehow it seems that Aroon, too, is always fated to be unloved and ""on the outside."" Although there are chimeric moments when she feels she's ""there at the heart of things""--Papa and Hubert take her to dances, her Charleston is ""a poem,"" dazzling young Richard Massingham shares jokes and memories with her--there are all those mysterious closed circuits which Aroon cannot explain: Mummie and Papa; Hubert and Richard; Papa and two hearty female neighbors; Papa and Wild Rose. Then Richard, after an upsetting voyeur's visit to Aroon's bed, leaves--and Hubert is killed in an auto accident. But ""our good behaviour went on and on. . . no one spoke of the pain."" Aroon's hopes for marriage to Richard fade, dying abruptly after Papa's suspicion-ridden death. And, flushed with the heat of her love for Richard (she never did see the implications of his intense friendship with Hubert), Axoon will let helping hands--and life--pass her by. Wily, shrewd, and terribly sad all at the same time: the story of a soul shriveling against cool, dark, shiny backgrounds.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
ISBN: 1844083241
Publisher: Knopf