THE GROWN-UPS by Victoria Glendinning


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The popular literary biographer (Rebecca West, Vita, Elizabeth Bowen) displays some of the same generic concerns in her first novel--an attempt to portray the inner life of a ""great man"" through the eyes of his many women. Despite its off-putting first sentence (""There's more to love than fucking""), this otherwise inviting novel of manners finds its center in Leo Ulm--a prominent social philosopher and TV personality whose books were once popular in the 60's and who now co-writes speeches for Margaret Thatcher. Approaching 60, Ulm relishes his role as ‚minence grise, and has plenty of still-admiring fans in awe of his wit and wisdom. But what becomes clear over the course of this chatty narrative is that Leo is also a loathsome bore: a demanding, selfish, self-absorbed womanizer whose vanities include reading from his books at dinner parties. Not that his audiences usually mind, for Leo surrounds himself with devoted company--especially a trio of young women who've known each other since boarding school. Martha, however, won the prize--she's Leo's second wife. Alice settled for the consolation of marriage to Ferdie, Leo's blind and brooding son from his first marriage, and also the only one who sees his father for what he is. Clara, an unemployed editor, also lusts for Leo, and discovers during their failed one-nighter that the idea of Leo is preferable to the reality; she also realizes that the prospect of uniting with dull Harry might not be so bad after all. While Leo's somewhat mad first wife, Charlotte, hovers on the periphery, a young fogy named Anthony Arklow-Holland stands by his side and ""dreams about the past,"" which holds the mystery of his own origins, among other things. Leo's stroke (his ""enforced transformation into a listener"") and subsequent death unleash all sorts of pent-up feelings among his women, allowing most of them finally to grow up, no longer under his oppressive sway. Love, marriage, and adultery British-style: lots of clever talk and entertaining dissection of character.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Knopf