Coe's first novel, this is the story of Maria, starting as she wins a place at Oxford, and describing selected episodes in her life over the next ten or so years. Maria seems to be in the world but not really part of it, never really fitting in or finding happiness.
The novel is written by a very intrusive author, who comments on Maria's situation, but affects an air of world-weariness and is himself puzzled and unsympathetic to her fate. So you don't really feel that you get to know Maria or to understand exactly what's making her tick. I suppose this was quite interesting, but it was a bit frustrating.
There was a pretty good description of cat behaviour in the book. Maria's pet cat, Sefton, "patently didn't give a toss about the family's welfare, except when it affected his own. He was totally self-absorbed, and yet totally unselfish". Also, a Nobbs-ian turn of phrase when describing one of Maria's friends: "virtue was not one of her virtues". And, something that I keep thinking of, she muses on how people say "I shall look forward to that" - what does that mean? That you're looking forward to looking forward to something?
A pleasant enough read, but not so good as the later books.
Completed : 09-Jun-2008