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wealhtheow

wealhtheow

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The Theory of the Leisure Class (Modern Library Classics)
Thorstein Veblen, Alan Wolfe
The Bar Sinister - Sheila Simonson After her husband and baby daughter die within days of each other, Emily Foster decides to take in other people's children, both to supplment her income and provide her son with company. The children she settles upon are Amy and Tommy Falk, whose mother has lately died and whose father is a career officer. Colonel Richard Falk is injured and exhausted when he first meets Emily, and they make poor first impressions on each other. However, she likes Amy and Tommy at first sight, and so agrees to take them on. Their acquaintance grows through his letters, filled with imaginative and funny stories, and Emily's letters back about his children. But there's a war on, and Richard's half-brothers seem to be trying to kill him, and so Richard and Emily meet only rarely, often when Richard is desperately ill.

This is a story that takes its time, covering three years of Emily's quiet domestic life and Richard's dangerous one. I enjoyed the length of it, but was annoyed at what seemed to me an uneven plot. The first third is all Emily, and then there are long stretches where she doesn't appear at all, or is mentioned off-handedly, as Ricard tries to survive the lurid melodramas his half-brothers and Napoleon are enacting. In fact, I was a little impatient that so much time was spent on the surrounding characters. We get whole chapters of Richard's friend Tom Conway (hero of Lady Elizabeth's Comet) or his sister Sarah and her husband. I like Sarah and Robert, but I'd have much rather had a few more conversations between Richard and Emily in place of them. As it was, Richard and Emily only talk in person a few times "on page", with the remainder of their relationship relegated to a summary of afternoons together and correspondence we never see. I didn't get much of a feel for what they knew about each other, or liked about each other.

Still, what I got, I liked. There's a good deal of plot here, although too much of it happens off-page (Richard is repeatedly attacked, but we never see it happen and only hear about his injuries afterward; an odd narrative choice). The dialog is natural, the characters understated but well-drawn. It's nowhere near as good as Simonson's first two books, but those were excellent, and this is just enjoyable.