Uncle Alex, a lonely and unloved translator, enjoys leading his passive, pretty niece, Gemma, astray. At first these possessive indulgences are quite innocent, but when she marries a rather cold, albeit successful doctor – a man Alex actively despises – his mission becomes all-consuming. In working on the story of Troilus and Criseyde, fantasy and reality begin to merge to the point where Alex encourages an affair between Gemma and an attractive out-of-work actor, David. But the increasingly complex web of deceit Alex manipulates for his own entertainment gradually begins to spiral out of control, with devastating results for Gemma.
A unique, somewhat disturbing novel, filled with egotistical liars and actors, voyeurism and sneaky manipulation. Cleverly plotted and impossible to put down. None of these characters are likeable but they are fully fleshed-out, exceptionally large warts and all.
Emotionally spoilt, self-indulgent Prue, falls pregnant at the age of 19 to the dark and dashing Gavin. Her father, respectable Peter Manson, cannot abide the idea of them being close; it’s as if another man has taken his rightful place. As he faces his own mid-life crisis, Peter tries to come to terms with the loss of possession over his daughter by beginning an affair with his young secretary. Gavin and Prue attempt to work through their own marriage anomalies as Prue perfects her role as the introspective, attention-seeking victim; eventually goading Gavin into punishing her. When she spills the beans about her father’s affair to her gentile, subservient mother, Cassie, Gavin sees red. But his out of control heavy-handedness with Prue has an unexpected effect on Cassie, and her own emotional skeleton falls from the closet with the slightest push, sending the sexual dynamic between them all spinning on its axis yet again.
Dark, raw, honest, and still maintaining a scandalous edge, especially when one considers this was written in 1969 and aired on TV in the seventies. I remember watching the series with my mother and we were both transfixed by this melting-pot of emotions played out by the middle-class Manson family. It’s not necessary to like any of these characters or to condone how they live, but rather to view it as an indulgent, hugely entertaining insight into their messy sex lives. But then, it’s so much more than that. How complex we humans are, how fragile our feelings and failures. What to show, what to keep buried. The complexities of ageing, domestic violence, incestuous thoughts, adultery, and sadism and masochism are all touched upon, but what makes this book so good is that none of this is described in any great detail or used gratuitously – it’s much more subtle. And all the more powerful, and recognisable for that.
Richard’s needy, bohemian ex-wife, Inge, makes life with his new wife and step-daughter as difficult as possible. Since leaving her and their two boys, Richard can’t help but respond to her loneliness, driven by guilt and a sense of duty. Inge has been hanging on for eight years, convinced that Richard will eventually return to the family home. Richard’s second wife, Helen, is more self-contained and independent, allowing him to please everybody except perhaps himself. His lifelong friend the handsome, manipulative, promiscuous author, Felix, is not averse in allowing his creativity to overlap real life, and Felix takes his pleasures very seriously. His devoted wife turns a blind eye to his selfish extravagance, so long as it’s not too close to home.
When Felix begins an affair with Helen’s young daughter, Sally – the most forbidden of fruit – a series of unfortunate events slowly unravels all their relationships, finally laying bare the undesirable truth of jealousy, lies, secrets, immorality, and betrayal. What sets this eighties novel apart from others that try to emulate this kind of sex-shock-taboo style, is the incredible depth of character and the highly credible backstories. The storyline might involve time-worn themes but nothing is overdone or overwritten, sex scenes are restrained and impart only what we need to know, making for a deliciously dark and smutty read heavily based on the psychology of relationships, and the prisons we can so easily make for ourselves.