A sophisticated cocktail of sweetness and cynicism - Cosmopolitan
Mary Wesley was born near Windsor in 1912. Her education took her to the London School of Economics and during the War she worked in the War Office. Although she initially fulfilled her parent's expectations in marrying an aristocrat she then scandalised them when she divorced him in 1945 and moved in with the great love of her life, Eric Siepmann. The couple married in 1952, once his wife had finally been persuaded to divorce him. She used to comment that her 'chief claim to fame is arrested development, getting my first novel Jumping the Queue published at the age of seventy'. She went on to write a further nine novels, three of which were adapted for television, including the best-selling The Camomile Lawn. Mary Wesley was awarded the CBE in the 1995 New Year's honour list and died in 2002.
There is more than one legacy in British author Wesley's ( A Sensible Life ) darkly comic, wise and irresistible new novel of manners. Henry Tillotson's legacy from his dying father is an injunction to help an English divorcee in WW II Egypt. Henry does more than that: he impulsively marries Margaret, to his lifelong regret. For when he returns with her to his country home, she takes to her bed out of pure spite and tries her best to make his life miserable. In an effort to achieve some conviviality, Henry invites two friends, James and Matthew, for a weekend party; each man brings a companion and each proposes marriage. Both women accept, motivated by pragmatism and a need for security. What happens to their marriages, and that of Henry and Margaret, makes up the remainder of the plot. Two couples have children and grandchildren; these are the second legacy, and part of a delicious secret. As usual, Wesley's picture of the British upper middle class is breezy and irreverent; the dialogue is witty and often astonishingly impertinent (one thinks that the English can be shockingly tactless); the plot is laced with irony; the characters--major and minor--are depicted with a master's deft hand. But it is in Margaret, whose monstrously selfish, malicious, eccentric behavior exceeds all rational bounds, that Wesley has created her most memorable character. Readers will root for her comeuppance, and will cheer when it arrives. (Nov.)
Wesley's world is one of speculation about relationships, gossip, and innuendo. She explores forces that unite and divide friends and lovers. In 1944, Henry Tillotson brings his bride Margaret to his country house, where she takes to her bed and remains in self-indulgent isolation. Ten years later, two younger friends of Henry bring their girlfriends for the weekend. In the years that follow, the two couples marry and return regularly, their mundane lives punctuated by Margaret's eccentric boudoir conversations or scandalous ventures into their company. Henry dies in 1990, attended by his friends' (or his?) daughters, and the reader's visits to Wesley's well-realized world draw to an end with his departure. For readers who appreciate nuances of language and emotion and the incongruities of life, Wesley's book will be a treat.-- Kathy Piehl, Mankato State Univ., Minn.
Mary Wesley takes you by the hand and you follow wherever she takes
you -- Kate Kellaway * Observer *
Mary Wesley does it again, only more so... She marches straight into her tale, intriguing from the beginning, keeping up a pace that rarely slackens * Literary Review *
Wesley breezes along with customary grace and nonchalance, sniping maliciously at her characters while giving them a more or less good time * Financial Times *
Lively and entertaining * The Times *
Wesley's books are a delight...a beautifully crafted tale, very sexy, very funny, I just didn't want it to end * Sunday Times (Perth) *