Written by Alice Thomas Ellis Viking/Elisabeth Sifton Books, 1984; 156 pages
On the last day of summer Mrs Bohannon fell in love. The poplars, fallaciously pathetic, looked horrified, their branches rising on the wind like startled hair, and a pilgrim cloud wept a few chill tears.
It began in a garden, as these things will, and she fell in love with her husband's son.
It happened like this... (first lines of the novel)
I've just recently discovered Alice Thomas Ellis -- descriptions of her books sounded a lot like Barbara Pym, so I was immediately intrigued. Pym is one of the authors I absolutely love, and I'm always looking for books with something of the flavor of her novels. And in The Other Side of the Fire, there is a distinct similarity, although no one can really equal Dear Barbara in my opinion.
The novel tells the story of Claudia Bohannon, a respectable, upper middle-class housewife who develops a sudden passionate and alarming crush on her grown-up stepson, Philip. Bewildered by the turn of events, Claudia turns to her best friend Sylvie for advice and sympathy, but Sylvie has no patience or words of wisdom -- when Claudia tells her she's fallen in love, Sylvie only cautions, "Be careful....It can be dangerous at your age." Sylvie likewise is no comfort to Claudia's husband (and Philip's father) Charles when he also seeks her consolation, telling him that she thinks marriage "is like a three-legged race with each participant harnessed to a loser."
Complications set in when Sylvie's daughter Evvie enters the fray. Evvie is in the process of writing her first novel -- a pulp romance based (rather loosely) on the local Scottish vet, his pet cow Violet, and his very odd (at least in Evvie's telling) group of relatives and companions. Very soon, Evvie is blurring the lines between her fictional world and the real one, and also getting Claudia and Philip involved in her creation. Eventually, of course, the two worlds collide in a painful but hilarious dust-up before things start getting back to normal.
This really is a very funny book, with lots of wonderfully wacky characters. Don't know how I've missed out on Alice Thomas Ellis up to now. I definitely want to read more of her books, but they're not that easy to find.
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