cover image Damage


Josephine Hart. Alfred A Knopf Inc, $18 (195pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40135-3

In this mesmerizing first novel, a story of sexual obsession, British author Hart writes in spare, measured prose that both reflects the narrator's lifelong anomie and current dark depression and is an appropriate contrast to the fevered story he relates. When the unnamed narrator, a reputable physician and rising MP, meets mysterious, compelling Anna Barton, ``the shock of recognition passed through my body like a powerful current.'' For the first time in an outwardly lucky life, he feels passion and joy, emotions that a longtime ``happy'' marriage and fatherhood have never generated. Anna immediately acknowledges the erotic bond between them, and the two begin a frenzied affair, its moral complications exacerbated by the fact that Anna is the narrator's son's fiancee. In addition, cool, self-confident Anna warns that she was irreparably damaged by her brother's suicide: ``Damaged people are dangerous. They know that they can survive.'' Aware from the outset that the price of his consuming lust will be the destruction of the narrator's life, the reader is immersed in the taut, swiftly paced drama, whose denouement, despite foreshadowing, comes as a surprise. Readers may find the prose overly mannered, however, and the novel more successful as an emotional tour de force than as a credible study of human nature. 50,000 first printing; Literary Guild alternate selection. (Mar.)