C. K. Stead, Author . Harvill $24 (230p) ISBN 978-1-86046-931-2

New Zealand writer Stead (Death of the Body, etc.) examines literary life in the middle of the 20th century through the prism of a writer's unrequited love for a friend, building his novel around an entertaining, engaging protagonist, Auckland novelist Laszlo Winter. Most of the book focuses on Winter's graduate student years at London University in the late 1950s and his ill-fated attraction to the vibrant, smart Samantha Conlan, who unfortunately has the hots for Friedrich Goldstein, a married Jewish journalist. Conlan and Goldstein embark on a passionate but problematic affair, forcing Winter to satisfy his urges with a call girl named Heather, who offers sex in exchange for lessons about Shakespeare in a series of unusual scenes. Winter next drifts into a relationship with another woman from his circle named Margot, but throughout their brief affair he remains troubled by the possibility that she may have had an incestuous relationship with her brother, Mark. In between the various couplings, Stead explores Winter's writing efforts, Conlan's brief encounter with T.S. Eliot and the work of an Indian colleague named Rajiv as he researches a biography of Yeats. Winter's dry, droll sense of humor and intelligence make him intriguing, but the insular quality of some of the literary scenes limits his ability to carry an entire novel. The passages with Conlan occasionally catch fire, but in the end this is a book for literary aficionados who understand the intoxicating power of study, gossip and debate about books. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/20/2002
Release date: 01/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 230 pages - 978-0-09-944706-1
Paperback - 230 pages - 978-1-86046-941-1
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