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In the summer of 1983, twenty-year-old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: conservative Member of Parliament Gerald, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their two children, Toby-whom Nick had idolized at Oxford-and Catherine, highly critical of her family’s assumptions and ambitions.
As the boom years of the eighties unfold, Nick, an innocent in the world of politics and money, finds his life altered by the rising fortunes of this glamorous family. His two vividly contrasting love affairs, one with a young black clerk and one with a Lebanese millionaire, dramatize the dangers and rewards of his own private pursuit of beauty, a pursuit as compelling to Nick as the desire for power and riches among his friends. Richly textured, emotionally charged, disarmingly comic, this U.K. bestseller is a major work by one of our finest writers.
Edward Manners—thirty-three, disaffected, in search of a new life—has come to an ancient Flemish city to teach English. Almost at once he falls in love with one of his pupils, the seventeen-year-old Luc Altidore, recently expelled from school for some mysterious offense.
Condemned to a mounting but incommunicable obsession with the boy, Edward becomes involved in affairs with two other men: one a heartless but seductive fraud, the other a young drifter with a deeply possessive streak. Then Edward is introduced to the world of the enigmatic and reclusive Symbolist painter Edgard Orst. Gradually he is drawn toward an understanding of the artist’s own obsession with a famous actress, drowned off Ostend at the turn of the century, and of the ambiguous circumstances of Orst’s own death under Nazi occupation. …[more]
In the late summer of 1913 the aristocratic young poet Cecil Valance comes to stay at ‘Two Acres’, the home of his close Cambridge friend George Sawle. The weekend will be one of excitements and confusions for all the Sawles, but it is on George’s sixteen-year-old sister Daphne that it will have the most lasting impact, when Cecil writes her a poem which will become a touchstone for a generation, an evocation of an England about to change for ever.
Linking the Sawle and Valance families irrevocably, the shared intimacies of this weekend become legendary events in a larger story, told and interpreted in different ways over the coming century, and subjected to the scrutiny of critics and biographers with their own agendas and anxieties. In a sequence of widely separated episodes we follow the two families through startling changes in fortune and circumstance. …[more]