Sheckley's 1960 novel postulates a future in which the criminals of Earth are stripped of their memories and shipped to a prison planet where crime rules and from whence there is no possible return. While the action surrounding prisoner Will Barrent is interesting, and Sheckley's commentary on human society amusing, the prison planet has neither reality nor absurdity enough to hold the plot together. It's all too clean.
This surprisingly modern-feeling comedy of manners contrasts the dull life of Edith Otley, a young matron with a tiresomely narcissistic and fatuous husband and somewhat straitened means, with the more exciting one of her friend Hyacinth Verney, a substantial heiress, single, beautiful, charming and independent.
The story mainly concerns the courtship of Hyacinth and Cecil Reeve. She's in love with him, but he loves another woman, Eugenia Raymond, a widow 10 years his senior. The widow refuses him, so he falls back on Hyacinth on the rebound. However, her awareness of his devotion to Mrs. Raymond impinges on their relationship.
The writing is excellent. Those who think the language of Jane Austen and Fanny Burney somewhat stilted and old-fashioned should find this more to their liking. The ending seems rather abrupt and unsatisfying, however.
This second novel in "The Little Otleys" trilogy focuses on Bruce and Edith, and their disintegrating marriage. Hyacinth Reeve does not appear, nor any other significant characters from the first book, and you can read this one without having read the earlier novel.
Edith Ottley finds herself drawn to Aylmer Ross, a man very much more her intellectual equal than the fatuous and self-centered Bruce. Ross is deeply in love with her, yet she keeps him at arm's length out of a disinterested loyalty to her ridiculous husband. Even when she knows that Bruce is having affairs with other women, she refuses to leave him — for the sake of convention, her children, her mother-in-law and the hapless Bruce himself — much to Aylmer's unhappiness.
This book is much more serious than "Love's Shadow," more real and even better written, though something of a downer. The tone is less like Jane Austen and more like a cross of Evelyn Waugh and Barbara Pym.
The third "Little Otleys" book takes place three years after the close of book 2.
World War I is in progress. Bruce Ottley, back with Edith, whom he left in "Tenterhooks," has used a hypochondriac's excuse to avoid military service. The couple is hosting an older widow, the charming but peculiar Madame Frabelle, who has insinuated herself into their household and social group.
Aylmer Ross, injured at the front, has returned to London to recover. He and Edith haven't seen each other in three years, yet they find their feelings for each other revive. Also on the scene is a beautiful young nurse, in love with Ross.
It's not quite so strong as book 2, but still quite well written, and readers who enjoyed that will surely want to read this one.
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