The latest from Coleridge (Streetsmart, 2001, etc.), Condé Nast U.K.’s editorial director, is a witty, nimbly plotted upper-crust soap opera, but one that favors glamour over substance.
1965: Eighteen-year-old Anthony, heir to a banking fortune, meets kohl-eyed and sultry teen adventuress Amanda at a party and is so smitten that he trails her to France, wrests her from a rival and marries her in Nice. Two years later, Amanda abandons Anthony and an infant daughter. He reluctantly divorces her and plights his troth to the child’s salt-of-the-earth nanny. A decade and two children later, that marriage implodes when Anthony sires another daughter by his acupuncturist. Soon he weds Dita, a chilly social climber. Thanks to the bank’s expansion into Asia, Anthony’s fortune grows, despite Dita’s squandering enormous sums on household opulence and the social whirl, and by 1995 Anthony is living comfortably at his family’s ancestral seat in Oxfordshire, surrounded by the detritus of his messy romantic life: five children, five stepchildren, a wife, three former wives or consorts. There comes, inevitably, a disastrous reversal, but everything is put right at the end. Anthony is well-meaning and likable, but readers may lose patience with his easy self-forgiveness and near-total lack of introspection—nor does it help that the narrator sometimes plays advocate for him.
A crowded, buzzing canvas, and the draftsmanship is superb. But it seems less a satiric novel than a flattering court portrait of an aristocrat who’s bought and paid for it.