A WOMAN OF SINGULAR OCCUPATION by Penelope Gilliatt

A WOMAN OF SINGULAR OCCUPATION

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The prolific Gilliatt (They Sleep Without Dreaming, Mortal Matters, etc.) here presents a slight romantic adventure set in neutral Turkey in 1939: pleasant fare, full of drawing-room intrigue, but also padded--a longish short story stretched a little thin. Catherine de Rochefauld takes the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul. She and Jean-Pierre, her diplomat husband (and P‚tain loyalist) in Ankara, live separate lives; and Catherine takes up with the dashing Thomas Drake, an American banker, pausing every now and then with her keyboard to send coded musical messages to London over a shortwave. As the affair deepens, Catherine and Drake pay lots of attention to what they eat in the wee hours (salad nicoise, for one); their ripostes become rather too arch; and the reader learns a good deal about the ticklish diplomatic stalemate in Turkey. Drake resorts to a fortuneteller to help him understand his mysterious companion; France falls; Pearl Harbor brings America into the war; and the intrigue thickens--operatives, German and otherwise, are everywhere. Catherine gets abducted (temporarily) after more repartee (including some Gilbert and Sullivan, a little Chekhov, and a bit of Shakespeare--our banker knows his Bard), but Drake discovers to his relief that she works for De Gaulle's resistance: there's a relationship between the notes she plays on her keyboard and the price of precious commodities (iron, copper, etc.). Quite a woman: in a curious sort of epilogue, Drake tracks her down in the 80's (he's become a nuclear physicist) and finds her in London, playing an open-air concert for the people. An odd little ornament that may manage to find its special audience.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1989
Publisher: Scribners