(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Pardoner’s Tale is composed of two stories: a first-person tale about Gus Howkins, an aging Londoner contemplating divorce, and a third-person narration (the controlling narrative) about Giles Hermitage, an established English novelist, unmarried, who becomes involved with the Chichester-Redferns, a woman and her daughter, while he is working on the story of Gus.

The narrative begins with the character that Giles creates assembling his folding-canoe at an estuary on the coast of Wales. Gus, in his forties, has been separated for four months from his wife, whom he was pleased to catch in an extramarital affair. It provided the occasion for him to break up a boring marriage. He is vacationing alone, hoping for something better.

While canoeing, Gus spots a lovely but apparently dazed young woman sitting behind the wheel of her car on a sandy spit that is being enveloped by the tide. The car is lost to the sea, but not before Gus rescues the woman and brings her back to his rented cottage, where in time they make love. When Gus awakens the next morning, he finds that she has disappeared. He decides to search for her, sensing that the woman would provide remission from boredom.

Meanwhile, Gus’s creator, Giles, takes a break from his writing. On the day his story begins, he is agonizing over Harriet, his lover of seven years, who is at the moment somewhere in the air on her way to Australia with her new husband. Attempting to turn his mind away from Harriet, Giles decides to read three pieces of mail from his enormous pile of correspondence.

One letter is from Helen Chichester-Redfern, a woman who lives along the route of Giles’s...

(The entire section is 692 words.)