Readers who have been waiting, not too very long, for A.N. Wilson’s ninth novel in nine years, will no doubt have some idea what to expect: a tightly plotted story; a full complement of English, upper-middle-class, garden-variety eccentrics; a reasonable share of social commentary; and a distinctive tone of urbane detachment.
This slight story of friendship, aging, and marital infidelity opens with three women who shared a flat two decades previously in London: Monica is reveling demurely in the artistic and gastronomic delights of Paris; Belinda is a peripatetic divorcee, in love with love; and Richeldis is a lovely, obtuse, and inexplicably contented wife and mother.
Add to these three Richeldis’ husband, Simon, a jaded philanderer; Madge, her overbearing and progressively senile mother; and Simon’s brother Bartle, an out-of-work pastor with vacillating religious convictions, and the result is the cast of characters for a pleasant farce. LOVE UNKNOWN is a novel in which dialogue such as the following is perfectly at home: “Everyone else in the world, except you and few Buddhist monks, hates his own company. What’s your secret?”
Prior books from Wilson, such as THE HEALING ART and WHO WAS OSWALD FISH?, have targeted and brought down some well-deserving prey--the healing profession or Victorian architecture -- but this book seems only to hazard the occasional glancing shot at love, or what passes for love, in the 1980’s. Perhaps, given the modern state of “affairs,” that is all that is possible.