Woman's Estate

Merle Jones, Author St. Martin's Press $24.95 (521p) ISBN 978-0-312-03004-9
Part bildungsroman and part international spy thriller, this hefty first novel follows Diana Hartley from a nubile 17 in 1927 into her still lusty, still glamorous 70s. Although she is a chaperoned peeress constrained by a vengeful mother, Diana climbs into bed with a chance-met American and then manages the resulting pregnancy with aplomb, marrying her cousin and going off to Malaysia, where, her husband having opted for boys, she turns for solace to a Swedish sailor. Meantime, her weak, womanizing, adored father becomes involved with a Russian Mata Hari, is betrayed and exiled. Diana's effort to clear his name is interrupted by WW II and her return to England, while her husband, remaining in Malaysia to fight the Japanese, reveals that Papa is an unsung hero. Subplots include the marriage of Diana's bastard son to the daughter of the man who begat him and the amassing by Diana of incredible wealth via couture houses and estate management. Excepting Diana, characters are black or white and not one is lovable. Nevertheless, obligatory though passionless love scenes, the details of Diana's wardrobe and household effects, and the ramifications of the narrative may keep readers turning the pages. (June)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1988
Release date: 01/01/1988
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