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Seattle Times: "Engrossing stories of hilarity and heartbreak."

Date: Jul 18 2008

Jane Gardam is a much-honored English author whose works are now being published in America, thanks to the small literary press Europa Editions. She is a pure pleasure to read and ponder, with a voice reminiscent of a brilliant, tenderly funny, hyperobservant aunt who will you give the real skinny when no one else will.

"The People on Privilege Hill" is a collection of 14 Gardam short stories that range from the hilarious to the surreal to the heartbreaking.

The title story brings back Sir Edward Feathers, the protagonist of Gardam's novel "Old Filth," a rich, lonely retired Hong Kong lawyer living out his twilight years in declining Dorsetshire splendor. He and his former arch enemy Judge Veneering have outlived everyone else; they attend a memorable English garden party attended by folks with names like Fiscal-Smith, and a woman who observes (kindly) of Virginia Woolf, "She wasn't much of a cook, but you don't expect it, when people have inner lives."

Other stories include "The Fledgling," a tragicomic tale of an older couple seeing their only child off to college, and "The Flight Path," an eerie fable of redemption set during the London Blitz. The best and bitterest story is a devastating commentary on the scandalmongering media culture of our time, "The Latter Days of Mr. Jones." The secularization and decline of European culture are sketched in the Bosch-like "The Virgins of Bruges."

Gardam is a born storyteller, and she is unafraid to take risks in pursuit of the killer closer. Sometimes she goes over the top — "Waiting for a Stranger" is a good Halloween story, but doesn't fare so well in the light of a summer day. But more often she nails it. "Pangbourne" is a story about an older woman who falls in love with a gorilla. The ending made me cry, and I thought I was beyond that.

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