The Serpentine Cave

Jill Paton Walsh, Author St. Martin's Press $20.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-312-16999-2
Booker-finalist Walsh's (Knowledge of Angels) engaging novel of sensibility winds through the labyrinth of one woman's emotional self-discovery (and a bit of British history) on the way to its rather tidy conclusion. When Marian Easton's artist mother, Stella, dies of a stroke, Marian must settle her affairs. Armed only with some of Stella's paintings and her own fragmented, bitter memories of a nomadic and bohemian childhood, Marian aims to unravel her past and look for the identity of the father she never knew. Her quest leads her to the coastal fishing village and artists' colony of St. Ives, where Stella enjoyed her greatest professional success--and where she inadvertently affected the outcome of the town's historic lifeboat disaster in 1939. Gradually, Marian's discoveries about her eccentric mother fill her with deep regret--and a strong resolve not to repeat her mother's mistakes with her own adult children. Walsh bathes this contemporary tale in dreamy, evocative descriptions of her native Britain, past and present; but, in her attempts to put the true story of 1939 to service as fiction, she sacrifices potentially interesting characters to the exigencies of plotting. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/03/1997
Release date: 11/01/1997
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