REQUIEM FOR IDOLS and YOU'RE BEST ALONE by Norah Lofts

REQUIEM FOR IDOLS and YOU'RE BEST ALONE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Contrary to the publisher's blurb, one of these two short novels was published under Lofts' own name and has appeared in the US before (Requiem for Idols, Knopf, 1938). But both stories will certainly surprise most fans. . . who just might not fully appreciate the brisk, 20th-century, downbeat Norah Lofts here. In Requiem for Idols, young narrator Polly Field--who has made a small fortune as a songwriter--buys back her old family country-house and spends a traumatic weekend there with her first houseguests: ""coloured"" songwriting partner Dahlia, who arrives with a pet monkey (soon killed by Polly's dogs), writhes in misery over racial prejudice (her white lover won't be seen with her in posh company), and decides to settle for a black husband; Polly's pretty, married sister Megan, who agonizes over her fading looks and her fear of death, toys with conversion to Catholicism, but finally emerges from her depression to scamper off to an adulterous affair; and plain sister Pen, a social-worker who reveals how she came to be such a joyless, scarred stoic. Unexpectedly serious stuff? Very much so. And, despite some dated attitudes and a lack of real weight, it's an impressive performance--crisply narrated by a non-virginal, quite liberated heroine (""I will not be a cow""), full of convincing character details, and utterly contemporary in tone. But even more unfamiliar--unless you've read Checkmate (1978, paperback only) or ""Peter Curtis""--is the grim, crime-psychological Lofts of You're Best Alone, which was indeed published only in Britain (1943), under the Peter Curtis pseudonym. It's the effectively claustrophobic tale of middle-aged bachelor Kit Shelf-anger--an ex-sailor whose hard-won, hermit-like existence in an East Anglia farmhouse is destroyed by the arrival of ne'er-do-well nephew Jamie. . . who first moves himself in, then his low-born wife: Kit finds himself caught between this mis-mated husband-and-wife; Jamie is accidentally killed (then secretly buried); and lust finishes off poor Kit, who truly would have been better off alone. So: not exactly for those who dote on Lofts' historicals or ghost yarns--but interesting, readable, early work by a gifted, versatile storyteller (and a genuine two-for-the-price-of-one bargain).

Pub Date: June 12th, 1981
Publisher: Doubleday