"A woman of considerable spirit, Erica is rather reluctant to move into Leicester Gardens. There she is surprised by what she finds: ambition and rivalries ruling the dining room, and yet there are possibilities for new friendships, too.
"One of these friendships is with the elegant Maria. Though her marriage survived both a war and an affair, Maria is haunted still by her memories of that dramatic time. Some of these she will recount, and others she keeps secret.
"Erica's young student Margaret, herself on a personal quest, travels to Europe in search of some answers of her own. Finally, it is Margaret's journey which brings about a sort of truce between the past and the present, and between warring generations of families.
"And at Leicester Gardens, Erica discovers that old dogs can certainly learn new tricks..."
"A beautiful but unobtrusively honed style, a marvellous ear for dialogue, a generous understanding of the complex waywardness of men and women." - Andrew Reimer
"Even more strongly here than in her earlier work, I have a sense of Witting's voice speaking to us. Of course her medium is her characters through whom her plot works itself out, and the wise things spoken are the words of these characters, but I had an intimate sense of their being hers as well. You could extract her bon mots, her reflections, her epigrams, and make a nice little volume of the wit and wisdom of Amy Witting. But of course you would lose a part of their power, and all the poignancy that context gives." - Marion Halligan
Neil studied the old woman whose bulk filled the facing armchair, wondering how firm her refusal was and how best he could undermine it.
He wanted to write the book. He needed the money, and also, this was Magda's grandmother Maria, and it was Magda who had asked him to do it. Writing the book would at least bring him her company, promised hours spent together.
And a lot of good that will do you, warned his reason, but his blood spoke otherwise. To be admitted to the private history of her family was surely a sign of trust, of something more than ordinary friendship; a prospect, perhaps, of intimacy ...
He searched the old woman's face for traces of Magda. The fine silver hair which gave inadequate cover to the pink scalp and was drawn into a puny knot at the nape of her neck must once have been the same shining curtain which fell sheer from Magda's neat round skull, past the small apple cheekbone, the beautiful curve of jaw and throat, to reach her shoulders. The eyes, yes. If one disregarded the pouch of skin which overhung the thickened eyelids, and the fading of the brilliant grey, those could be Magda's eyes. It occurred to him that the old woman had perhaps in her day been a more classic beauty than Magda. The nose was straight, unlike Magda's delicate scoop. Age had not withered the mouth, but had drawn it into an oblong still full-lipped, unlike the other, wide, thin-lipped and mischievous.
From the Penguin paperback edition, 1998.
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Last modified: July 22, 2003.