Chapel Street

Sam North, Author Grove/Atlantic $19.95 (248p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1466-2
Outwardly proud and even magnificent, a Georgian house on an affluent London street rots from within; this oddly breezy British novel peeks inside as the inhabitants struggle with timeless paradoxes of love, destiny, friendship and mortality. Mrs. Gorse, the aged landlady, handpicks various boarders and, as she slips into senility, makes them the audience for her frequent railings against stupidity, youth and, especially, sexual vitality. Indeed, each of the members of her household is somehow undone by these very ``failings.'' North, who won the 1990 Somerset Maugham Award for The Automatic Man , wittily and intelligently brings to life figures like Santay, a weary paraplegic suffering from unrequited love and a dependence on tranquilizers; and Skim, a burly, cynical set-builder transformed first by friendship and music, and again by his romantic misadventures. But despite North's obvious craftsmanship, at times his playfulness and his use of the house to link these characters--both literally and metaphorically--make his focus seem arbitrary. Roaming these decaying halls, the reader may glimpse a character's travails, but never closely, never for long and never with the appreciation that the novel's flashes of insight appear to promise. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1992
Release date: 01/01/1992
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