Criticised by our parents, attacked by our children, we hold our fire, seldom fight back."" Like Margaret Drabble's The Middle Ground, this dazzlingly fine-crafted portrait of one Englishwoman--her past and present compressed into a single day--offers a haunting shadow play of rueful recognitions about the rattling complexities of middle age. The woman is writer Laura; and she'll share this busy 24 hours with second husband Andrew, father of two of her four children, who starts the day standing naked (as truth) before his wardrobe: ""What does a respectable Englishman wear to play in a tennis match, go to a Boat Race party, visit his son in prison, and his father-in-law on his death bed?"" But Andrew and Laura's first stop--the games-playing of Hampton Court tennis and company-wife civilities--also recalls the savage games-playing in Laura's lower-class-childhood past: lip-smacking, make-believe tortures with Jewish best-friend Hilde, whose parents were lost in Nazi Germany; the crafty (if crude) guilt-ploys of Laura's mad aunt/guardian (Laura felt ""abandoned"" by her hard-working mother). Likewise, the next stop--a reunion party of the old gang from Oxford--links up with a party in the past: a celebration with the noble, romantic spinster who protected both Laura and Hilde. (Later she would even see Hilde through the initial stages of terminal madness.) Then there's a visit to Laura's son Jeremy in prison (sentenced, through innocent vulnerability, to six-months on a drugs charge)--which evokes other prisons: Hilde, caged in her illness; Laura in her first marriage, a ""safe house"" which turned out to be a prison of deception. And, finally, with the visit to Laura's elderly parents, there are echoes of old abandonments--Laura abandoning her first-marriage children (for ""right"" reasons), also perhaps abandoning Hilde--and a new one: back at home, Laura and Andrew's young daughter, alone, has been forced to cope with an accident. In sum--one of Bawden's best: a triumph of craft and caring insights, illuminating the ""smooth curve"" of life at middle age. . . when one faces both ways, ""seeing my end in my beginning.