Lyris, Clovis, Nat and Candy

Gabriele Annan

  • The Artist's Widow by Sheila Mackay
    Cape, 288 pp, £12.99, July 1998, ISBN 0 224 05134 2

Shena Mackay’s latest novel invites you to observe the Zeitgeist of 1997 addling the brains and hearts of quite a large number of Londoners. They seem an incongruous lot, but with her usual ingenuity she manages to portion out the action among them and to make them connect (not necessarily in the Forsterian sense). They tend to come in pairs locked in ideological conflict, which doesn’t have to be verbal: it can be expressed in their behaviour, their domestic arrangements, their clothes. Altogether it is a Dickensian assemblage, vivid, lively, quirky and woven into a network that stretches from Dulwich to Maida Vale, and from Tufnell Park to the art galleries in Mayfair. Every bit of the novel is either topographical or topical, or both: like Hoxton, the new cool place for artists to have their studios.

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