Gilliatt's fourth collection of stories is perhaps her weakest--with an almost astonishing falling-off in quality from the variety and vigor of Splendid Lives (1978). Arch, brittle, dissociated nearly to the point of nonexistence, most of the twelve pieces here involve the sort of well-off, well-educated, preciously eccentric sorts who were only one small segment of Gilliatt's world before; and the narratives tend to be either cold, slightly absurdist life-histories or limp anecdotes--delivered in a deadpan, telegraphic style which now rarely delivers the oblique emotional impact of prime Gilliatt. There's the affect-less tale of shipyard-owner Stephen, who loses his wife, his wits, and his fortune--but lives through daughter Stephanie, who loves her tutor Steve. (The characters comment on the name-game throughout.) Similarly, chunks of time pass to little effect in the stiff playlet ""In Trust"" (grandparents watching their virtually parent-less, rich-girl granddaughter grow). And even when the focus is more intimate, in stories of romantic semi-attachments, the involvement remains slight: an independent-minded sculptor stews over whether to marry her dentist-lover; an American woman in London (constantly asked ""When Are You Going Back?"") finds some sense of place with a middle-aged waiter who's ""learning electroencephalography""; a young Englishwoman stands by her love for an elderly American professor of musicology (who's also a magician), despite the jealous snipings of an aging Polish Ã‰migrÃ‰e physicist; a couple's relationship intertwines with their work at a company that creates messages for fortune cookies; young lovers and old lovers meet, trade eccentricities, and more or less settle for each other. Only two stories break the mold: a surreal fable involving a Polish Ã‰migrÃ‰ who returns to his home-town and finds a doppelganger; and ""One Asks Oneself,"" in which a leftwing woman tells the life story of her semi-beloved Tory cousin--a piece with more color and texture than the rest. Throughout, of course, there are stylish satiric touches, erudite allusions, and hints of familiar Gilliatt themes. But this is coolly mannered work overall (so mechanical that you're not surprised when a catch-phrase like ""the sticks and stones of New York"" reappears, glibly, in different stories), with neither the comedy nor the pathos of this uneven writer's best fiction.