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Another charming, rigorously controlled novel by an English writer who should be more familiar to U.S. readers than she is. This very short work, originally published in Great Britain in 1979, limns the lives of a group of Londoners residing on Thames River barges moored in the borough of Chelsea, an environment with the reputation for being ``artistic.'' Fitzgerald's forte is character building, quickly but resonantly filling in the topography of people's strengths and weaknesses, their individual sense of needs and frustrations and rewards. In this perfectly absorbing little novel, she is completely in her element observing these few individuals in this special community, casting an understanding but humorous light on their special concerns as barge people (leaks, tides, storms, mail delivery), on their interrelations as constituents of a somewhat closed society, and on the personal problems they encounter in trying to arrange their lives. Among Fitzgerald's previous novels is the absolutely enchanting At Freddie's (Booklist 82:108 S 15 85). BH. [CIP] 87-8492
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Housed in once-seaworthy barges on the Thames, half-a-dozen irrepressibly quirky people and their collective rat-fearing cat give each otherand the charmed readeradvice and comfort. Chief among them are Richard, whose boat and person are always shipshape, and Nenna, whose aren't, partly because her husband Edward refuses to live on a boat but mainly because she has reached that vulnerable point in her maternal affairs at which she recognizes the superior capability of her 12-year-old daughter Martha. It is Martha who gets supper on the table and calls Tilda, six, down from the mast, where she sits declaiming passages from courtly tales of kings and queens. For all except Richard, who goes to a proper job at nine o'clock every morning, life is so precarious that old Willis, the marine painter, must sell his decrepit boat (at low tide, when the leaks won't be noticed), and young Maurice, Nenna's best friend, must eke out his living as a male prostitute by receiving stolen goods. In short order, matters take several ironic turns that disrupt the carefree, if scrubby, ease of barge life. Fitzgerald, whose Innocence was published to acclaim here last year, won the Booker Prize in 1979 with this earlier novel. With economical prose and wonderfully vivid dialogue, she fashions a wry, fast-moving story whose ambiguous ending is exactly right, although it leaves readers (and one of the characters) hanging. (September 18) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved