A SEASON IN THE WEST by Piers Paul Read


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Here, Read (The Free Frenchman, 1987, etc.) offers an amusing, erudite, only occasionally too-slick satire about a bored banker's wife who turns translator and takes up with a newly arrived Czech dissident. Laura Morton and her husband Francis are close to a "severe neurosis brought on by nothing but the perfection of their life." Afraid that she might have an affair with the persistent Charlie Eldon, a financial journalist and Don Juan, Francis suggests that she work--so, despite the fact that "a love of literature was considered suspect in her social set," she decides to translate Josef Birek's House of Culture, an unpublished novel. Read deftly builds his book on that scaffold. As Charlie chats up Laura, stealing kisses and biding his time, Laura works with Birek on his manuscript. She introduces him to her friends, moves him into her house, convinces Charlie to show him around literary London, and starts an affair. Birek has London's economic reality explained to him, and, meanwhile, Francis survives a Third World debt crisis at the bank only because Charlie writes an adulatory column about him. Connections and social savvy are everything, and Birek doesn't have a chance once Laura dumps him--he's not a literary genius, she comes to realize, and he's socially inept. Birek, who lives hand-to-mouth, will get mugged on the street and then nearly seduced by a curate before he almost gratefully returns to Czechoslovakia, where, better connected, he becomes an editor. Read sometimes ends his fictions with a burst of melodrama, but this comedy of manners, with hardly a false move, successfully satirizes the denizens of 1970s literary and social London as a group of provincial and quite dismal pretenders.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1989
ISBN: 394-57530-X
Publisher: Random House
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