THE SUM OF THINGS by Olivia Manning
Kirkus Star


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It is unfortunate that, like Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, the works of Englishwoman Manning, who died last year, will receive the full US critical attention due them only posthumously: third in her Levant Trilogy, this last novel concludes Manning's cool reconaissance of the random living of a few English nationals landlocked in Cairo during World War II. Now the Germans have retreated, and the war moves into Italy; ""The war had abandoned them. . . . They had to invent excitements."" Harriet Pringle--chilled by the diffuse warmth which husband Guy thinly bestows not only on her but on friends, waifs, and other ""inadequate people""--impulsively decides not to leave for England on an evacuation ship (cf. The Battle Won and Lost, 1979) and instead travels to Damascus on a chancy, penniless jaunt spiked with danger, beauty, and fortunate conjunctions, She will eventually be warmly welcomed by Lady Angola, who's feverishly triumphant in her Indian-summer love affair with the poet Castlebar (who fled from a horrid wife). And, in Damascus, all three--plus friendly, fatly sodden officer Lister--will holiday. But meanwhile, in Cairo, Guy hears that the evacuation ship has been torpedoed, assumes that Harriet is dead, and, worn by grief, he turns to comforting such others as wounded young lieutenant Simon Coulderstone, whose rehabilitation--shafts of despair, exhilaration, a disorienting sense of transience-mirrors twists of living outside his hospital. And, finally, each of the players will either die or ""settle"" for less: Castlebar succumbs to typhoid; hysterically grieving Angela finally accepts the elderly's peace in a friend's care; Harriet, reunited with Guy, accepts her marriage, which ""in an imperfect world, was making do with what one had chosen""; and Simon loses his fire for action as well as his intense grief over the death of brother Hugo (""like a face disappearing under water""). Brilliant, meticulous work-as Manning, with deft humor and the lightest of irony, charts the drift of human congress in an alien land and finds the tidy, sad sum of it: remnants of purpose, smothered tragedy, and an unlikely chain of small and redeeming kindnesses.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0743246551
Publisher: Atheneum