JIGSAW: An Unsentimental Education by Sybille Bedford

JIGSAW: An Unsentimental Education

Email this review


From the author of the acclaimed Aldous Huxley: A Biography (1974) a graceful, partially autobiographical coming-of-age novel. The First World War is over, and Billi's glittery mother has fled for Italy, leaving her eight-year-old daughter with cautious dad in the crumbling family schloss in Baden. Much time is spent in solitude--innocent friendships with the village boys cause gossip, and dad is near-paranoid about the safety of his houseful of furniture and art. But then impetuous mum summons, and Billi leaves Germany behind. The mother is starting a romance with much younger Alessandro and traipsing across Italy on her trust fund. Next the family transplants to Sanary-sur-Mer, an underpopulated village on the Cote d'Azur. Billi commutes back and forth between London and Sanary, a forthright child who collects adult friends. In London, she's taken up by the dumpy but cultured Falkenheim sisters; in Sanary, the crowd includes the painter Kisling and his wife, and a sleek tennis-playing pair. Billi drifts through her late teens: she revels in the ocean, nurtures a crush on the woman tennis player, tries to write. But then devoted Alessandro lapses into infidelity, and the mother seeks solace in morphine. As the addiction takes hold, Billi is near-helpless as her magnetic mother self-destructs. The peripheral players--the Kislings, later the Huxleys--glimmer, and fresh Mediterranean air permeates. But Billi herself is a pale, idealized portrait: her strength seems inborn rather than acquired, and even her most extreme clumsiness is endowed--retrospectively--with charm. Bedford's polished, unobtrusive prose elevates--but never electrifies--this luminous but unaffecting quasi-memoir.

Pub Date: April 7th, 1989
ISBN: 394-49340-0
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online: