In his second go at the inhabitants of his own "dear country," the fictional Rapstone Valley, John Mortimer shows his despicable antihero Leslie Titmuss having his own second go at courtship and marriage. The lovely widow Jenny Sidonia seems everything Titmuss missed in his first marriage to the neurotic Charlotte Fanner: physically lovely and sweet tempered, Jenny (formerly the wife of a liberal Oxbridge don) is also willing to overlook Leslie's politics and settle down with him in the former Fanner estate Rapstone Manor. But the planned invasion of a new township threatens to unsettle their happiness in the Rapstone Valley... and as a Tory cabinet minister, Leslie cannot risk blocking the new plans for his own domestic comfort...
Mortimer's 1990 sequel to PARADISE POSTPONED doesn't hit the manic comic highs of its predecessor, but its still a beautifully constructed novel that gives us again a good sense of everything Mortimer thinks is wrong with England, from the loathsome machinations of a Tory-controlled press to the self-serving and cruel rhetoric employed by Leslie himself, to the ineffectual protests and perceived kookiness of Leslie's enemies on the left. (The true hero of PARADISE POSTPONED, Dr. Fred Simcox, is back here, both as a potential rival for Jenny's affections and as an opponent to the Rapstone Valley development scheme.) If there is something a bit predictable about Mortimer's constant nostalgia for his own vanishing England (and weren't the Simcox brewery or the neighboring town's biscuit factory likely seen as blights on the landscape when they were built, despite Mortimer's mourning for them?), he does achieve something pretty near to first rate in his portrait of Titmuss's marriage to Jenny. In this Mortimer approximates something of what George Meredith did in THE EGOIST, in its unforgettable portrait of an intelligent and lovely young woman horrified to realize she's mistakenly tied herself to a monster.
Widower Leslie Titmuss is certain he's on top of his game. As Secretary of State for Housing, Ecological Affairs and Planning, he's a popular Minister and good at what he does. The only thing missing from his life is love. Although Leslie isn't looking for a new wife, the young and beautiful Jenny Sidonia captures his heart. Jenny was also married before, though, and memories of her late husband begin to bother Leslie more than they should.
Nearly every character in the book has an agenda with strong beliefs and a sense of self-righteousness, except Jenny who's increasingly caught in the middle of things. One of those things is the potential development of the Rapstone Valley in the rural area where Leslie was raised and now lives with Jenny.
I'm a big fan of John Mortimer's Rumpole series, and although this novel is quite different, the same humor appears at times, which made the book enjoyable. Still, I found my mind wandering during longer narrative passages. Leslie is an interesting protagonist. I went from feeling sorry for him, to liking him, to not liking him at all, which I suppose indicates a well rounded character. If you're a fan of Mortimer, give this book at try.
The surprising thing about Mr. Mortimer's book, as opposed to his Rumpole series (which are really fun reads) is his precisely perfect descriptions of emotions and the depth of his characters. They all live (and die) with grace and a certain dignity, even when naughty. This is a lively if not happy-ending book which is excellent from start to finish. Nobody is likely to be satisfied with the result, which is exactly as we live life. Sometimes I wanted to wring a few necks to get these folks to understand what was happening and make them change. Which is Mr. Mortimer's objective. He knows his stuff.
Love Rumpole? Then avoid this book. It lacks Mortimer's usual crisp style, humor, keen insight into people, and much of a plot. Of the many Mortimer books I've read, enjoyed, and recommended, this is the only one I did, didn't, and can't. Oh well, there are plenty of his other good works out there.