Kirkus Star


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The US debut of British novelist Cusk (the 1993 Whitbread-winning Saving Agnes). Anyone who's read Cold Comfort Farm lately and wondered why no one can write like Stella Gibbons anymore will feel vindicated by Cusk, whose tale of the innocent city slicker discovering the lurid mysteries of country life may well revive the genre. Her heroine, Stella Benson, is bored with the routines of her life and so answers an ad seeking a ""kind, intelligent and considerate girl to help parents with their disabled son."" Soon after, she's quit her job, left her apartment, and written to her parents and boyfriend, telling them that she's leaving London and they're not to look for her. Those minor details behind her, she takes the train to Sussex and finds the remote village of Hilltop, where Piers and Pamela Madden have employed her to look after their crippled son Martin. Although the arrangement appears ideal--private cottage, decent wages, plenty of privacy, fresh air, and sunshine--Stella quickly picks up hints that something is a bit off in the Madden household. Martin, to begin with, is an ill-tempered young lout (he introduces himself to Stella with a cheery ""Fuck off"") who seems, despite his wheelchair, to need less looking after than his strangely distracted parents do. Meanwhile, the manager of the Madden farm, Mr. Trimmer, is a middle-aged bachelor intent on seducing the new governess, and a local oddball named Al tells her all sorts of horrible things about her employers. What exactly is going on? Are the Maddens lunatics? Is Stella in some sort of trap? What was she running from in London? And can she really settle down to country life? As in all good comedies, the questions are more important than the answers, but the answers can't be said to disappoint. Neither can the story. Witty, sharp, strangely good-natured: the sort of book a person is sorry to put down.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Picador/St. Martin's