Picks and Pans Review: The London Embassy

UPDATED 03/21/1983 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/21/1983 at 01:00 AM EST

by Paul Theroux

The 18 stories in this book recount the experiences of a U.S. Embassy officer in London. He is a bright bachelor, turning 40, who is given to such cavalier comments as: "Language is deceptive; and though English is subtle it also allows a clever person—one alert to the ambiguities of English-to play tricks with mock precision and to combine vagueness with politeness. English is perfect for diplomats and lovers." Upon his arrival in Britain the narrator falls in love with a beautiful woman who, it turns out, is simply using him. In The Exile, he deals with a famous American poet who is pitifully insane. The 16th story, describing a dinner at the American Ambassador's home, is the best because Theroux has as two of his characters Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband, Denis. They seem more alive in this fiction than they ever have in newsprint. Theroux has the Prime Minister speak "in a hearty headmistressy shout." Her husband, on the other hand, "was kindly, he was funny, and he had...a way of throwing his head back and braying his approval." This is lightweight stuff, but deftly done, and far more entertaining than Theroux's overwrought 1982 novel The Mosquito Coast. (Houghton Mifflin, $13.95)

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