Guppies for Tea

Marika Cobbold, Author St. Martin's Press $20.95 (286p) ISBN 978-0-312-10992-9
British writer Cobbold's debut novel, which introduces three generations of women, each ineffectual in her own way, proves much sadder than it is droll. It's been decided that Selma Merryman, recently widowed and showing unmistakable signs of senility, must leave her lovely Devon estate and become a resident of a retirement home. Selma's daughter, Dagmar, a compulsive hand-washer horrified by anything remotely unsanitary, including her now incontinent mother, considers the home a fine solution. But Selma's 31-year-old granddaughter, Amelia, determines to liberate Selma from the community of pathetic residents and authoritarian nurses. (The title comes from these caretakers' unappetizing tendency to serve fish as a snack, and an incident in which a nurse disposes of sick guppies by boiling them.) Cobbold effectively conveys the poignance and pain of seeing a once-vibrant individual confined in a loveless environment. Her dark humor, however, which focuses on Amelia's lack of self-confidence (her philandering husband has just demanded a divorce), patronizing doctors and Dagmar's fear of germs, gives the impression that lone women can't cope calmly with adversity. Selma's forgetfulness and weakness lead to crises on her trips away from the home, and although Amelia averts each disaster, it's with ample hysteria. Though a bestseller in Britain, where it was nominated for the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award, this tale of one woman's empathy, her mother's apathy and her grandmother's decline may not be Americans' cup of tea. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/04/1994
Release date: 07/01/1994
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7451-6473-1
Paperback - 360 pages - 978-0-7862-0385-7
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-4088-2183-1
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