cover image Rebuilding Coventry: A Tale of Two Cities

Rebuilding Coventry: A Tale of Two Cities

Sue Townsend. Grove/Atlantic, $16.95 (155pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1115-9

Townsend's first work since the British bestseller The Adrian Mole Diaries again displays her gift for comedy, but the novel suffers from a disconcerting lack of cohesion. Coventry Dakin is an ordinary but self-proclaimed ``beautiful'' housewife who lives in a council estate in northern England. While attempting to break up a domestic quarrel, she accidentally kills her bullying neighbor with an action-man doll, and flees sans handbag to London. There she sells her body for two quid, briefly takes up residence with eccentric aristocrats, and finally finds refuge in a cardboard box outside Waterloo Station, where she discovers that her boxmate, Dodo, is in fact an upper-crust heiress with ties to Parliament. Meanwhile, her dull husband Derek is bereft; her son John discovers the diary in which Coventry reveals her secret fantasy life as artist Lauren McSkye (for whom her drawing teacher has a desperate and unrequited love); and curmudgeonly detective Sly is out to capture Coventry. The novel veers between the silly and sanctimonious, and while some passages are sheer fun, the majority of the book is problematic, with unconvincing shifts between first- and third-person narration, dubious plotting and indiscernible moral intentions. Many references are resolutely English, and destined to remain obscure to even the most Anglophiliac American. (Mar.)