23 JUNE 1961, Page 28


The Adonis Garden. By Daphne Fielding. (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 16s.)

RATHER more than six years ago Mrs. Fielding published Mercury Presides, a highly enjoyable volume of autobiography which ended abruptly with the announcement of her resignation from the English haul monde and her decision to follow the promptings of her horoscope into nomadic and nefarious ways.

Her new book is a fiction. She has revealed to newspaper reporters that certain of the in- cidents correspond with personal experiences, but it is not to be read as a sequel to Mercury Presides but as a work of imagination; a first novel of unusual vitality and variety.

Her heroine, Rose, is thirty-five years of age, beautiful, attractive, the mother of two daughters and a stillborn son, and unable to bear a fourth child. Her heart is in the English countryside—a day's hunting with a West Country pack is described with infectious enthusiasm—but she has been uprooted from her married home by divorce and has attached herself to a painter with a good war record but broken fortunes. After five years of association he is giving her twinges of jealousy in which he is encouraged by a wholly odious friend, a literary gourmet named Sheridan. Rose and her second husband briefly separate, enjoy love affairs and reunite. The only unsatisfactory feature of the solution is the impunity, indeed the reward, of Sheridan who is given a young, pretty, rich and docile wife. Readers who, like the reviewer, wish to see justice done will regret that he did not suffer the same fate as a dog who was stung to death by wasps.

This synopsis gives no impression of the rich- ness of detail. Spain, both in the popular resorts and hidden interior, is seen through a painter's eye. There are arresting scenes of low life in Tangier; a large company of sharply observed, refreshingly unconventional characters—among others a girl who decorates `hedgehogwise' her bun of fair hair with the straws from her drinks and a student who disputes with himself about

incest on a tape-recorder. Rose regards her vicissitudes as a series of tests set her by some malign figure from fairy-story, which she must pass in order to achieve ultimate happiness. The painter husband finds himself obliged to write a book which, more than his amours, restores his self-confidence and his love for Rose. The Adonis Garden is, as has been said above, a painter's book; also a cook's. The descriptions of food are luscious. In literary form it might be a paper gs played in a convivial mood by Miss NO Mitford, Mr. Cyril Connolly (of Rock Pod Mr. Hemingway (of Fiesta) and Nor Douglas (of South Wind). An old pro finds himself aghast at Nh Fielding's prodigality. She has squandered themes and materials of at least four novels this single act of exuberant bounty.