Cousin Rosamund

A lush and densely textured evocation of a world of shingled haircuts and extravagant houseparties, COUSIN ROSAMUND depicts the painful separation of two gifted heroines from the intense world of their Edwardian childhood and their progress toward emotional and artistic maturity.

In THE FOUNTAIN OVERFLOWS (1957) and THIS REAL NIGHT (1984), Rebecca West had begun the story of the extraordinary Aubrey family, a saga that she was never to complete. Here, the twins, Mary and Rose, recovering only with difficulty from the deaths of their mother and their beloved brother Richard Quin, are repelled by the cruelty and vulgarity of the social world that their success as concert pianists has forced them to inhabit.

Although they are sustained by the love lavished on them by the eccentric characters their mother had rescued and inspired, Mary and Rose feel unable to bridge the gap between present and past, to build new relationships. Seemingly deserted by the one individual who could add moral ballast to their lives, their cousin Rosamund, who has married inexplicably and effectively disappeared, they feel incomplete. Even music, their link with reality, begins to seem inadequate. Rose, fiercer and more practical by nature, escapes isolation by allowing herself to love; Mary, whose final fate is not described, has clearly chosen a lonelier path.

West’s prose is vivid and forceful. The end of the book has been reconstructed from the author’s notes, but there is little in it that seems tentative or incomplete, and several of the descriptions and set passages represent the author at her best. An afterward by novelist and biographer Victoria Glendinning summarizes the previous volumes and outlines the disturbing conclusion of the family story planned for a fourth volume, which remained unwritten at the time of West’s death in 1983.