Is it possible to like a book without particularly liking one of the two main characters? I suppose it is, which is why I've given Cathleen Schine's new novel, "Fin & Lady" four stars.
Fin Hadley is an eleven year old orphan in 1964. His father has died a bit earlier from heart failure and his mother dies at the beginning of the book from cancer. An only child, Fin has also recently lost his grandparents. The only one around to take custody of young Fin is his half-sister, Lady. Lady is the daughter of his father by his first marriage. Father and daughter had had a difficult relationship, but Lady knew her duty and she swept in and took Fin back to New York City and prepared to raise him. Lady Hadley is one of those irritating people we've all come across in our lives. That young, free-spirit, going from place to place, person to person. Never settling down and never bearing the responsibility for another. But along with custody of Fin comes responsibility that is difficult for Lady to take. But, somehow, she manages to do so, albeit in her own flighty way.
Even with Fin to take care of, Lady is not going to live the conventional life of her wealthy WASP cohorts. No living on the Upper East Side for Lady and Fin; they have a town house in the Village and live among the artsy and the druggy. Lady is SO charming that she has three beaus who want her and they each vie for her attention. (I pictured Shirley MacClaine in "Terms of Endearment", sitting at the dinner table, with three beaus hanging on her every word!). But as Fin ages in the Village and makes his own friends and connections, he stays with Lady, though she does one unconventional thing after another, finally ending up on Capri and there the story comes to a climax.
When I read the epilog to Schine's book, I was reminded of the epilog to another comedy-of-manners, Elinor Lipman's "My Latest Grievance". In that book, there was also a flighty, charming character, Laura Lee French. And the ending was very similar to Schine's book. But my reaction to both characters was polar opposite; I gritted my teeth reading about Lady Hadley when I had been fascinated by Laura Lee French.
But I can still highly recommend Cathleen Schine's new novel. The other characters, Fin and everyone else, had a realness to them that the caricature Lady Hadley did not. But that's okay.
I loved Cathleen Schine's The Three Weissmanns of Westport (inspired by my favourite Austen, Sense and Sensibility) so I was super-keen to read her latest, Fin and Lady. It begins in 1964, when eleven-year-old Fin is orphaned and moves from his home in rural Connecticut to live with his older half-sister, Lady, in Greenwich Village. Lady is a fascinating character - something of a Holly Golightly, who wouldn't be out of place in a Wes Anderson movie - glamourous, beautiful, earthy, fragile and desperate for freedom. Fin is enchanted by her, and so are a trio of boyfriends who ebb and flow in their lives according to Lady's whims. I particularly enjoyed Schine's playful references to The Odyssey, including the suitors patiently waiting for Lady to choose.
Schine's prose is crisp and dazzling, perfectly depicting the hazy, beatnik summers of 1960s Manhattan, from Fin's innocent, boyish games and friendships, to the shifting music scene and political rumblings. Through Fin's eyes as he matures, we see the world changing - and Lady too. Can the imperfect, magical, makeshift family they've created with each other last?
A boy and his sister. She, a little older than him and due to a tragedy, is the one to take in and look after the boy -but she's not parent material! I really enjoyed this little read, by a new to me author. A little like Auntie Mame, she has a style of her own, and you wonder if he will survive the roller coaster.