cover image Heat Wave

Heat Wave

Penelope Lively. HarperCollins Publishers, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017476-7

Lively (Moon Tiger) considers the bliss of romantic love, and its frequently tragic disillusionment, in her 11th satisfying novel, which provides further evidence of her ability to build a fascinating plot from minutely observed character. Ensconced in World's End, her summer cottage in England's rural midlands, Pauline Carter, 55, is copyediting an allegory of romantic love while trying not to observe that the seemingly idyllic marriage of her daughter, Teresa, to ambitious professor/writer Maurice, is treading rough water. Trusting, vulnerable Teresa and her baby son share the premises with her mother, while charming Maurice comes and goes. Pauline soon realizes that he is involved in an affair with his editor's girlfriend, conducted when the couple visits World's End on weekends and during Maurice's sudden, unexplained midweek trips to London. To Pauline, the situation carries the echoes of her own betrayal by Teresa's father, Harry, also in his time an unscrupulous professor/lover on the make. Remembering the wasted years of her life before she had the courage to divorce Harry, Pauline is terrified that Teresa is doomed to repeat her history. Events in the novel's last few pages prove otherwise, adding a final shock to the steadily mounting, clearly foreshadowed tension. Lively is most interested in the difference between appearance and reality--between the apparently tranquil countryside and nature's casual mayhem, between the exterior of the stone cottage and its state-of-the-art interior technology, between Maurice's beguiling reassurances and his cynical adultery. Acutely aware of ironies and misperceptions, she is also a master of descriptive detail, evoking the landscape with techniques akin to an Impressionist painter's. Most importantly, she creates a convincing picture of obsessive sexual love tainted by jealousy and misery, and of the kind of maternal love that carries its own implacable mandates. (Sept.)