Jumping the Queue

Mary Wesley, Author Penguin Books $12.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-14-010827-9
Late-bloomer Wesley published this first novel in Britain at the age of 70a fact that explains the breadth of experience reflected here. As a practical decision, Matilda Poliport, middle-aged and recently widowed, is preparing at the story's outset to commit suicide before the trials of old age can beset her. But she is temporarily thwarted by an encounter with a highly publicized gentleman murderer on the runa matricide, in fact. Matilda whimsically decides to shelter the otherwise sympathetic killer for a few days and agrees to abet his escape to the Continent. Within their brief, strangers-on-a-train-like intimacy, Matilda talks frankly about her life, while the matricide remains strangely silent about his odious crime. However, what the reader learns about Matilda is far more than she admits to herself. Wesley leaves us wondering about the limits of human knowing and what anyone can ever finally determine about either the past or one's true motivations. Reality in this contemporary novel remains an open system. The rub is that Matilda, on the one hand, is remarkably self-aware but, on the other, not only self-deluding but also the victim of a reductive imagination, outright lies and withheld or fragmentary informationpitfalls, the novel suggests, that await the reader of this or any other narrative, be it fiction or so-called fact. The novel is delivered in a bright, sparkling style, full of witty asides on the fatuity of modern culture and mores, all the better to underscore its dark themes. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/25/1988
Release date: 05/01/1988
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