A Dubious Legacy

Mary Wesley, Author Viking Books $21 (272p) ISBN 978-0-670-84672-6
There is more than one legacy in British author Wesley's ( A Sensible Life ) darkly comic, wise and irresistible new novel of manners. Henry Tillotson's legacy from his dying father is an injunction to help an English divorcee in WW II Egypt. Henry does more than that: he impulsively marries Margaret, to his lifelong regret. For when he returns with her to his country home, she takes to her bed out of pure spite and tries her best to make his life miserable. In an effort to achieve some conviviality, Henry invites two friends, James and Matthew, for a weekend party; each man brings a companion and each proposes marriage. Both women accept, motivated by pragmatism and a need for security. What happens to their marriages, and that of Henry and Margaret, makes up the remainder of the plot. Two couples have children and grandchildren; these are the second legacy, and part of a delicious secret. As usual, Wesley's picture of the British upper middle class is breezy and irreverent; the dialogue is witty and often astonishingly impertinent (one thinks that the English can be shockingly tactless); the plot is laced with irony; the characters--major and minor--are depicted with a master's deft hand. But it is in Margaret, whose monstrously selfish, malicious, eccentric behavior exceeds all rational bounds, that Wesley has created her most memorable character. Readers will root for her comeuppance, and will cheer when it arrives. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/02/1992
Release date: 11/01/1992
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