A motherless baby named Faith is the linchpin of this delightfully eccentric comedy of manners and miracles by Gardam, a two-time winner of the Whitbread Prize (The Hollow Land ; The Queen of the Tambourine) . First published in Great Britain in 1996 and set in the early 1990s in the moody Yorkshire moors and the gentrified climes of Surrey and London, the novel features a highly entertaining cast of dotty characters whose class, ethnic and religious differences are wonderfully deconstructed by Gardam's sharp, dark wit. Jolly Holly Fox ("an extraordinarily nice girl") is the last person her devoted mother, the widowed and wealthy Thomasina, expects to die in childbirth. Unable to even look at the surviving baby, she runs away with a retired general. Andrew Braithwaite, Holly's physician husband, is equally unable to cope ("he disliked children altogether, really") and gives Faith to his brother, Jack, a devout but nontraditional Christian minister and Jack's Indian, ex-hippie wife, Jocasta, who live at a Yorkshire commune headed by Jack. Assorted relatives and friends wring their hands over Faith's fate, including her anxious paternal grandparents, the affable Toots and Dolly; ancient Pema, one of the mysterious Tibetan exiles staying at Jack's commune; Nick and Ernie, two ex-burglars working for Jack; and Jocasta's 11-year-old Indian son, Philip, whose loyalty to little Faith never wavers. Gardam's voice is dead-on as she crafts a tale with a lovely surprise ending that reaffirms the importance of faith, making this a royal treat for the holidays. (Dec.)
Forecast: Gardam's most recent book to be published in the U.S.— The Flight of the Maidens, a New York Times Notable Book in 2001—helped raised the author's profile in this country, and should ensure wide review coverage of her latest.