REVIEWED BY JUDITH NEWMAN
Lyall, a gleefully funny journalist who was stationed in London for the New York Times (and is married to an Englishman), explicates the Brits in all their class-bound, overly apologetic, alcohol-soaked glory. She is mistress of the telling detail, as when she describes the conflicts of the new wave of females in Parliament with the old public-school boys. (After a former girlfriend of Nicholas Soames, the portly MP, described making love to him as "having a large wardrobe fall on top of you, with the key sticking out," the female MPs would turn imaginary keys in their hands whenever he spoke.) Indeed, Lyall is particularly great at dissecting the freakiness of Brits at play. "Continental people have a sex life; the English have hot-water bottles," said one observer. But, in fact, the English are sexy precisely because sex is so fraught and scary to them. Lyall understands something about the American character too: What American woman when faced with an Englishman deeply uncomfortable in his own skin hasn't wanted to give him comfort?