April 2012

An Englishwoman’s merry misadventures

By Ceri Radford
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To be a good busybody, you need people skills and the best of intentions. (Bad busybodies are something else again.) The middle-aged British heroine of A Surrey State of Affairs, Constance Harding, is perfect for the role, strewing both intended and unintended results of her meddling all around her circle of family, friends and virtual universe with innocent ignorance and a blithe disregard for reality. Not to mention a bewildered disbelief at the occasional unexpected results of her activity.

Trying to live up to the outmoded values of her upper-middle-class upbringing, Constance ricochets from ignoring the obvious evidence of her own husband’s adultery to missing entirely the crush another woman’s spurned husband has on her. (That would be a man from her beloved Tuesday evening bell-ringing club.) She also totally misreads her son’s sexual leanings, resulting in misguided attempts to find him a wife, even as she despairs at her daughter’s truly appalling computer-assisted illiteracy.

But that’s only the first half of this giggle-out-loud, go-with-the-flow novel of old-fashioned human impulses filtered through the first-person narration of Constance’s blog. It’s whimsical and droll, a good enough premise to provide the setting for the whole novel, but Ceri Radford (called the “new Helen Fielding”) has other plans for her debut. Reader be warned, the story abruptly abandons its old-fashioned character-probe for a startling new tack: Constance suddenly tires of her Wodehousian existence and sets off to bring her outmoded education up to date.

She impulsively follows her husband Jeffrey (“a man of few words and many possible meanings”) to Buenos Aires and Patagonia, being careful, of course, to pack a compass, sturdy boots and Bach’s Rescue Remedy. Readers will be charmed by Constance’s all-out approach to life and swept away by this comical, sparkling adventure.

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