The Haunt

A. L. Barker, Author
A. L. Barker, Author Carroll & Graf Publishers $22.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7867-0784-3
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
Hardcover - 185 pages - 978-1-86049-722-3
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-0-571-32200-8
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A rather chaotic hotel on the Cornish coast, Bellechasse is the gathering spot for a large cast of characters, haunted by their own eccentricities and troubled relationships, who assemble for a weekend of, as the brochure proclaims, ""peace and plenty."" Keeping track of everyone is the only real challenge to readers of this charming, cozy book. Gilbert Eashing, an antiquarian in a wheelchair whose interest is in funerary sculpture, and Mildred Gascoigne, an elderly spinster by choice (""One might choose without being offered a choice""), have come for a holiday, while Pam and Antony Wallington are there to bandage a failing marriage. Charlie Olssen's car has broken down midway on his mission to sell a nude portrait of his ex-wife to her present husband, while Piper, the author of an agony column for those in need of ""the knowledge that someone, somewhere cares,"" busily avoids the attentions of a young freelance reporter called Senga (Agnes backwards). Nearby live Owen and Elissa Grierson, new residents who have moved to Cornwall after Owen's retirement and, in the next cottage over, red-haired Angela Hartop and her small son, James. Barker conveys the intermingling of these well-meaning middle-class folk with a combination of sympathy and gentle wit; the result is funny and intermittently touching. Adultery and even death are treated with a light and forgiving touch; this is a good book to read when in need of serenity. Especially well rendered are the characters over 60; often overlooked in modern fiction, these elderly men and women--the creations of an author who was born in 1918--are more vibrant and vital than the minority of younger characters. (Jan.) FYI: Barker, author of 20 books, won the first Somerset Maugham Prize in 1947 for her collection of stories, Innocents, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1969 for her novel John Brown's Body.
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