A strange, amusing, and perplexing little book, told mostly through dialogue, about a weirdly cheerful menage a quatre between a handsome middle-aged couple, their dashing widower friend, and a beautiful 18 year old girl, with only the husband and wife ever winding up in bed with one another.
Mr. Middleton dotes on Ann. Mrs. Middleton dotes on Charles. Charles dotes on Ann and Mrs. Middleton. And Ann dotes on being doted on. Author Henry Green presents these people as a gang of befuddled masochists, unwittingly causing themselves great anguish and just as unconsciously enjoying it. The "doting" that they mistake for love is a form of self-torture. Green doesn't treat this doting as perverse. He portrays it as very human and therefore lovable mistake. Needing to feel loved, to feel young and desirable, the Middletons and their friends/would-be lovers try to force love out of others by showering love (or at least professions of it along with clumsy physical demonstrations) on them. None of the characters behaves very well. The best of them, Mrs. Middleton, the good wife and mother, is actually the most adulterously minded, but neither of the men or Ann act with much virtue or good will. And yet Green makes them all likable and all forgivable. He doesn't make us laugh at the characters' foibles but at their predicament. Green isn't as mean as Evelyn Waugh or as angry as Kingsley Amis, fellow Brits who also specialized in comedies of manners. He's not as funny as they are either, but he is a whole lot more humane and more forgiving of his characters' weaknesses.