A rickety, middle-aged virgin slides into madness--through rainbow whorls of old songs, old movies, pastel colorings of her grey past, even the Royal Wedding--and, though slickly superficial, the resulting chronicle is often mesmerizing and touching. Rachel, a minor clerk in a London office, has been left a house in Bristol by an elderly, vaguely-remembered aunt. So off to Bristol she goes, remembering her dreary past (a possessive mother who deprived her of dates and sexual prospects), but feeling rejuvenated: ""like a girl of seventeen. . . . At seventeen I might have gone to Paris, and it would perhaps have changed my life."" After all, after grey London, Bristol is ""in gorgeous technicolor""--and life is a holiday as Rachel sets about renovating her quite lovely 18th-century house, once the home (1785-1797) of philanthropist Horatio Gavin. She chirps and flaps about the neighborhood, edging off from reality into a euphoria of fantasy: she becomes obsessed with predecessor Horatio, even reliving his life (at one point ""distributing largesse"" among the poorfolk); like Ellsworth Dowd of Harvey, she invites strangers to tea--though, unlike Ellsworth's friends, they don't show up, But young gardener Roger (whose bared chest Rachel can't forget) does visit, with wife Celia and baby Tommy. And while Rachel's attachment to the family grows (she plans to leave the house to god-child Tommy), so does her involvement with the increasingly vivid Horatio presence: she believes herself to be married . . . and pregnant! . . . and thus changes her mind about Roger & Co. moving in with her. Eventually, then, as Rachel roams her house in naked ecstasy and fantasies spiral up (a lovely forgiveness/deathbed scene with Mother, a liaison with Laurence Olivier), canny Roger assumes the role of amorous Horatio--to lead Rachel to a final cruelty. And, attempting to escape lunatic asylum attendants on a bus, Rachel has a muddled-but-potent epiphany, then goes out beaming--with lines from Scott, Williams (""I have always depended on the kindness of strangers""), and her own: ""Fiddle-de-fuck, my dears!"" In all: more shinily celluloid than deeply convincing as a psychological study--but there's a surface wit, dazzle, and poignancy nonetheless.