PENELOPE'S HAT by Ronald Frame


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 A woman novelist--never certain who she and others are, both a product and an observer of the English middle class notorious for preferring appearances to the truth--kindles the imagination in Frame's haunting new novel (A Woman of Judah, 1989; Sandmouth, 1987; Winter Journey, 1986). Here, Frame covers the 1920's through the 80's. Styles and periods he is too young to have witnessed--including 1920's Borneo, a tennis club in 1930's Cornwall and wartime London--he captures with uncanny skill. His heroine is also a convincing period piece, with her taste for hats that both proclaim and conceal and with her need for a certain type of man to take her emotional life in charge. She wavers between being flesh and blood and an amalgam of the sensitive women who graced British drawing-room novels between the wars. Likewise, Frame's latest wavers between being an enormously clever parlor trick and literature of a more authentic kind. The author has some postmodern cards up his sleeve with his heroine writing books that obliquely refer to the life the reader has just read about, interviews by journalists with the heroine about why she writes and what she is trying to say, and mysterious, often melodramatic holes purposely left in the story to be filled in later or not at all. For Anglophiles, the book is a feast of the poetry of well-heeled English life--Harrod's, the Savoy, the Berkeley, holidays in France--and the very English poetry of good manners papering over emptiness, hatred and despair. Beautifully written, almost musical story of a woman's journey from childhood to old age trying to find clarity in a muffled world that makes its point by what it does not say.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-671-72616-1
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991


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