Picks and Pans Review: The Garish Day

updated 06/02/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/02/1986 01:00AM

by Rachel Billington

Like Iris Murdoch and several other British writers today, Billington builds her fiction on religion. Her hero in this novel is Henry Hayes-Middleton, whose father is a successful Foreign Office climber. Until he goes to boarding school, Henry lives in the foreign lands where his father is posted and later spends his vacations with his parents in New York or with his father's sister on a farm in Ireland. Henry grows up brilliant at Greek and Latin, handsome and polished, a perfect candidate for Oxford and eventually the foreign service. He admires his successful, if stuffy, father unstintingly. Barely 21, Henry marries lovely, ethereal Flavia. They have a daughter, after which Henry—baptized a Catholic by his mother—falls apart. Soon he is praying with some seriousness and asking questions that can't be answered. Billington's women are superb characters: subtle, mysterious, complex and fascinating. It's easy to understand why men find them desirable. The males, on the other hand, are puzzling. They are obvious, self-centered womanizers, and it's difficult to see why any woman would put up with them. Flavia, to her credit, doesn't. In this, the author's ninth novel, she occasionally gets carried away with "fine writing," elegant little passages that call attention to themselves and distract the reader. But The Garish Day is mostly thoughtful, funny and, in its British way, very entertaining. (Morrow, $17.95)

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