Part of the Furniture

Mary Wesley, Author Viking Books $22.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-670-87363-0
Octogenarian Wesley's novels are distinguished by her sharp eye for human frailties and the ironies of fate, and by her witty and incisive prose. If her last novel, An Imaginative Experience, was a bit mean-spirited and cynical, she almost overcompensates with this heartwarming story of May-December love. On the most fateful day of her life thus far, 17-year-old Juno Marlowe loses her virginity to two men she has adored for years, cousins Francis Murray and Jonty Johnson, who share her favors just before they leave for active duty during WWII. Soon afterwards, Juno experiences her first London air raid, from which she is rescued by a stranger, Evelyn Copplestone, who dies a few hours later, having given Juno a letter addressed to his father. Handsome widower Robert Copplestone proves to be no less kind than his son; he takes Juno under his wing, and she remains at the Copplestone estate in Cornwall as a landgirl, milking cows, feeding pigs and in general endearing herself to the wholesome country people in Robert's employ. When the results of Juno's brief tryst prove fateful, 60-year-old Robert must admit to himself that more than kindness motivates his insistence that she remain at the farm during her pregnancy. Juno is one of Wesley's most enchanting characters, a mixture of teenage bravado and childlike vulnerability. Wesley makes the romantic attraction between her and father-figure Robert altogether credible, though she is less successful in convincing the reader of Juno's total naivete about sexual matters. Moreover, the story verges on melodrama when a raging storm blocks the roads and knocks down the telephone lines just in time for Juno's accouchement. But Wesley's skill with character development and her subtle, amusing dissection of that paramount British preoccupation, family background and breeding, endow this novel with the charm of a comedy of manners and the enduring appeal of a satisfying love story. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997
Release date: 04/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
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