Trick or Treat
There are no tricks and many treats in this gem of a novel, which centers on three households in a small English neighborhood in the interval between Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day (November 5). Octogenarian Olive, a once beautiful radical who has become obese and addled in her old age, shares a home with her longtime companion and devoted caretaker. Their neighbors are Nell, an old woman waging a war on dirt to expunge the shame of her ex-con son's crime, and a family overflowing with children, whose youngest member links them all. As the novel progresses, secrets about the past and the history of a bitter rivalry between Olive and Nell surface, shedding light on the present and ultimately shaping it in painful, searing ways. Glaister, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award last year for her first novel, Honour Thy Father , writes with sensitivity and humor. Olive, who is losing her grip on the world, and Nell, who fiercely struggles to control her environment, are memorable characters. That readers will empathize with Olive's anguish over the loss of a straw hat is a credit to the novelist's gift for opening up their inner lives and imbuing even the smallest objects with emotional weight. Deftly building suspense, Glaister moves the narrative to an explosive, sadly ironic and very satisfying denouement. Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. In Glaister's second skillful, blackly comic gothic-y novel, two neighboring grotesque and touching cuckoos are nudged into eye- bugging public displays. It all takes place in a modest corner of an English city, and, as in Glaister's Honour Thy Father (1991), there's a nasty bit of the past to be exhumed, plus doom on the way, but here there's also considerable warmth and good humor. Eight-year-old Wolfe, unhappy with itchy skin and the name his generally loving, heavily pregnant, hippie mother Petra burdened him with, misses the commune and learns to say ``things are in a state of flux.'' Next door to Wolfe are Olive and nice, grandfatherly Arthur. The pair have been together for years but never married, on principle, as old leftist activists. Olive, once a lush rose of a powerful, sexy magnetism, is now a bubbling mass of confusion and emotive storms within a mound of obesity. Arthur, adoring, cares for this impressive ruin. On the other side of Wolfe's family is ancient Nell, a frenzied nerve of inanity who lives to clean and disinfect. But what to do with her son Rodney, returned after many years (some in jail) and crawling with germs? Before Nell's scouring potential goes off the dial, there'll be a confrontation with Olive--whom Nell has hated since schooldays--at a Guy Fawkes Day bonfire and picnic in Wolfe's yard. Subsidiary fireworks abound, involving a prize cup, a hat with cherries, and a sizzling affair in the long-ago. There'll also be treats for Wolfe, dirty, dirty tricks, two deaths, and, at the close, a massive final cleansing boom. Glaister snaps her old birds in midflight in witty flashes: As nervous Nell awaits visitors on Halloween, ``her knees are locked together and her ears are on stalks.'' In all: a cool, sure, bright entertainment. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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