COUSIN ROSAMUND by Rebecca West
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COUSIN ROSAMUND

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Here, the majestic coda to the late Rebecca West's projected trilogy retrieved from her unfinished manuscript. This novel continues the story of the Aubrey family begun with The Fountain Overflows (1957) and furthered with the posthumously edited and published This Real Night (1984). The time is the late 1920's, and twin sisters Mary and Rose (who narrates), successful concert pianists, are still childlike, enveloped in the lively, guiding presences of dead Mama and brother Richard Quin, killed in the war. (""We could not doubt their existence. . . We knew them to be magnificently engaged."") Cousin Rosamund, lovely and serene, one of those ""moral geniuses"" centering on a veiled spiritual destiny, is very much alive, yet gives the impression of racing ""in some coexistent world where dimensions are otherwise."" Yet Rosamund, like mother and brother, will also become inexplicably absent; she will marry a hideously greedy and ugly vulgarian, the ""richest man in the world."" And Rose will see, in the disgraced and satanically trapped eyes of Rosamund (a London homecoming reception is held in a room ""hot and full of smoke"") a certain serenity. Thrust forth on the world by the absence of guardians (""We are by nature children. . .deserted children""), Rose and Mary cling to one another, and particularly to the indestructible humanity of these denizens of the ""Dog and Duck"" pub by the Thames--elderly Len, Milly, and square-peg Lily; there's also Uncle Morpurgo, the cheerful giver, fled from his punishing family. In contrast to the nightmare marriage of Rosamund, the wedding of Lily's niece Nancy (whose mother, Queenie, had murdered her husband and is now about to be released from jail) and Oswald--two parent-maimed lonely ones--seems to have the infinite sweetness of humble need. Oswald's father, the thundering religionist, will just as thunderously claim Queenie as a wife. Throughout, Rose is maturing to a new knowledge as she sounds out a universe of portent and sensibility; examines the value of art (Is is ""real"" or ""a legend to be told to distract [us] from the intolerable features of existence?""); and finds for herself the ancient and yet brightly new joy of sex and marriage. Confronting the hydra heads of the world's evil, there's a goodly company of saints, the persistence of humble goodness, and those like Rose and Mary (who chooses her solitude) who find their own safe harbors. Marvelously rich in philosophical and psychological insight--as well as humor and mesmerizing, often symbolic, settings. The author's searching, stinging imaginative intelligence encompasses art and love and justice and simple humanness. With an illuminating afterword by Victoria Glendinning.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
ISBN: 0140101306
Publisher: Viking