WAR PAINT by Tom Wakefield


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In Wakefield's (Lot's Life, not reviewed) novel, which manages the feat of being both sweet and wily, three narrators reminisce about Kay Roper, a schoolteacher who arrived in the quiet British village of Padmore to teach in a girls' secondary school in 1942, and who has been killed unceremoniously by a swerving postal van. Janet Haycock, an adoring former student, recalls how Roper handled her charges with respect. She instilled a sense of pride in them, and insisted on shaking each one's hand individually and giving a formal and personal good-bye at the end of the day. Patrick Harper, a miner and Roper's neighbor, remembers how he trailed around after her on lovesick jaunts. He also recalls how Roper ministered to him when he was in the hospital after he almost lost an arm in a mining accident. Mrs. Chaplin, once the headmistress of the school and now living in a nursing home, reminisces about Roper's defense of her heavy use of makeup and flashy clothing, as well as the day that she produced a jar of salve that soothed the bad case of crabs that the snooty Mrs. Pickett appeared to have caught from her husband when he returned from the front. Pickett threw off her knickers right there in the headmistress's office and allowed Roper to apply it. Being forthright about sex and sexuality was Roper's strong suit. She organized an after-school group with mothers and used the time to instruct them on how to find mutual satisfaction with their husbands, and she kept a chart in her classroom of each student's menstrual period. These facts matched up oddly with her personal life, since she seemed dedicated only to her father and never dated. There is a great deal of gentle humor here, and Roper's death ultimately reveals several surprises. A delightful picture of village life, and then some.

Pub Date: July 22nd, 1994
ISBN: 0312287321
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: St. Martin's