A Favourite of the Gods

Country Life
April 20, 2011
Martin Williams

In this, which was her second novel, the late Sybille Bedford brilliantly evokes the settings - London, Rome and the French Riviera - that Henry James and Edith Wharton explored exhaustively in their own works. tike can, indeed, be said to owe a considerable debt to those two great chroniclers of the international leisure class in the early years of the 20th century. Permeated in its opening chapters by a seductive aura of dolce far niente,a gripping tale gradually unfolds of the frustrations lurking beneath superficially sunny surfaces.

The protagonist, Constanza, is the product of an ultimately disastrous union between an Italian prince and an heiress ~ from New England. Raised in patrician splendour, and endowed by her parents with every advantage of wealth, beauty, breeding and education, she yet finds herself lacking direction: as Bedford explains in introduction, she senses that 'something more is needed. A purpose, a target, a belief. A part'. Repudiating her own unsuitable marriage, contracted in haste against the backdrop of the First World War, Constanza embarks upon a restless search for fulfillment- with dramatic and unpredictable consequences for both herself and her daughter, Flavia.

The tensions inherent within this elegant jewel of a novel derive less from the misunderstanding of one cultural mindset by another than from the manner in which several different and often contradictory, cultures are blended and distilled through three generations of the same family. Tightly plotted, immaculately written and stylishly reprinted by Daunt Book, this is a sophisticated delight from start to finish.