A Stranger Still

Anna Kavan, Author
Anna Kavan, Author Peter Owen Publishers $31.95 (302p) ISBN 978-0-7206-0955-4
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First published in 1935, Kavan's nimble riches-to-rags family saga is now something of a period piece, though it brims with sophistication and charm. The central plot revolves around urbane but domineering widower William Lewison, owner of Greater London stores, who loses control of his empire and implacably seeks revenge on the scheming partner who has duped him. More interesting to most readers, however, will be the ""Anna Kavan"" we meet here (the novel was originally brought out under Kavan's married name of Helen Ferguson). A self-reliant, egocentric rebel of 25, Anna, having run away from her husband in India, now shares an apartment with a woman in London. Soon she ventures to Italy with Martin Lewison, William's son, an easygoing painter whose cheating wife has absconded with Martin's best friend, the slovenly bohemian artist Gerald Gill. Kavan (1901-1968), who was addicted to heroin for most of her adult life, portrays her alter ego as a born outsider, giving contemporary appeal to the protofeminist heroine who is resolved to take control of her destiny. The author's meticulous poetic analysis of her characters' emotions at times recalls Virginia Woolf, as she deflates pretense, hidden motives and inflated self-images with the lightest touch. (Mar.)
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