cover image Putney


Sofka Zinovieff. Harper, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-284757-7

In this incendiary story of sexual obsession and abuse from Zinovieff (The Mad Boy), it’s love at first sight for composer Ralph Boyd when he meets entrancing Daphne Greenslay. The problem is he’s 27 and she’s nine. They are introduced at her family’s house in Putney, in Southwest London, when Ralph is hired by Daphne’s novelist father, Edmund, to write the score for a play based on his most famous novel, Oedipus Blues. It’s the 1970s and rich, successful Edmund’s idea of parenting is relaxed, to say the least. In this permissive environment, well-evoked by Zinovieff, the relationship between Ralph and Daphne secretly flourishes. Ralph eventually marries an age-appropriate woman and has children, but Daphne remains his romantic obsession. Forty years later, Ralph is dying of cancer, and Daphne is a recovering drug addict and single mother to a young daughter. Daphne reconnects with her best friend, Jane Fish, who was a childhood witness to her relationship with Ralph and nudges her toward a confrontation with him over the sexual abuse she suffered at his hands. Told from their three vividly established points of view, and traveling back and forth between the 1970s and today, the novel makes a convincing case for how the anything goes ethos of that earlier decade can lead to a reckoning decades later. (Aug.)