FOREIGN AFFAIRS by Alison Lurie

Reviewed by Mary Stein, Friday Morning Book Club

Foreign Affairs(April 15, 2004) When first published, Foreign Affairs received raves and the 1985 Pulitzer Prize. That prompted our book club to select this novel, which delves into the world of US college professors temporarily living in London in the 1980s.

The central character, English professor Virginia Miner, is an "invisible," plain, unmarried middle-aged woman, who nonetheless has a healthy interest in sex as evidenced through her affair with the improbable Chuck Mumpson, an Oklahoman engineer given to wearing Western garb and a plastic raincoat. Virginia's handsome, young, untenured colleague, Fred Turner, is estranged from his earthy artist wife, Roo, and gets involved with Rosemary Radler, a British movie star who is glamorous, phony and disturbed.

Their lives entwine with each other and with other Americans and Brits in the London scene of parties, theater, lunch dates, and touring. Quotes and references from adult and children's literature are scattered throughout the novel and give added dimension to the work. English majors and aficionados of John Gay's The Beggars Opera will especially enjoy the allusions.

Our group talked about the many themes we found in this satire: physical beauty, age, male-female relationships, career jealousy, arrogance, using people for selfish reasons, differences and similarities between the American and British social caste system, and our connection with British adult and children's literature.

We enjoyed Lurie's observations and sense of humor, including the way she poked fun at academic jealousies and feelings of superiority. We talked about the invisibility of women who are either not beautiful or who are middle aged. Some of us found aspects of Rosemary's disturbed life not believable. However, we all seemed to enjoy Lurie's insight into adults' love for children's literature, "a passionate longing, not for children, but for one's own lost childhood."

We began our group discussion wondering why this novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. After an enriching conversation, we ended with a deeper understanding and appreciation of Foreign Affairs.

Read the book. You may like it.

FROM THE EDITORS: We'd love to hear from other Larchmont readers. Take the Book poll and add your comments.


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