Raphael, author of a slew of novels, collections and screenplays
including Oxbridge Blues, Two For the Road and, most notably,
BBC-produced The Glittering Prizes of seven years ago, returns here
to the theme of exile from the hallowed halls and select society of
Oxbridge. Heaven and Earth in addition surrounds its fallen
Cambridge angel with the harsh realities of an England that, like a
cauldron, brews the mindless violence witnessed this past spring at
football matches on the Continent and the Sceptred Isle itself.
Intelligent, caring, funny Gideon Shand - a man who, for the love
of his good Jewish friend Stephen Hellman, abdicated a well-nigh
assured position as college don by condemning the anti-Semitic
magnum opus of a colleague - finds himself, 20 years later, stuck
in the ugly town of Chaworth, researching TV documentaries,
translating your odd French novel, raising son Tom and daughter
Miranda, doing schtick with his wife Pamela, hoping for the demise
of his stolid mother and the consequent cracking of the trust-fund
golden egg. Until then, though, the lights of his life are his
family, his bridge games and his friendship with Stephen, who has
done much better for himself since Cambridge; he's a successful
lawyer, has a pampered wife, Miriam, and a country home in Suffolk
that undergoes redesign as often as the mood strikes Stephen. Then,
violence in Chaworth against Gideon's young son (among others)
sends the Shands to idyllic Quince Cottage near the Hellmans,
chosen by the Hellmans, financed by the Hellmans, redecorated by
the Hellmans. Not surprisingly, the Shands come to resent the
incessant kindnesses of the Hellmans (does one include among these
Miriam's brazen attempts to seduce Gideon?), and the reader comes
to resent the coy eleventh-hour revelation that Gideon's daughter
is really Stephen's. Not to worry, for teenage Miranda knows and
takes it all as levelly as she does losing her virginity to her
beloved's male lover in the presence and at the request of her
beloved, who is, one might add, a cleric. Gideon, however, need no
longer feel indebted to Stephen when his mother literally goes up
in smoke, freeing up the inheritance; but he feels less sanguine
about wife Pam's rape by one of his ex-students and her admission
of continued love for his best friend. Though Raphael successfully
creates a Pinteresque feeling, especially as the novel progresses,
one can't help but wonder what's the point. Questions such as Can a
Gentile love a Jew? and Whence springeth violence? dance across the
surface of this book but never make a home. Dialogue is, as in
earlier works, Raphael's forte, although the too many characters
sound too much alike. So, all in all, a novel perhaps for devoted
Raphael fans; for others, a Frederic Raphael to miss. (Kirkus
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