This satiric and symbolic novel focuses on a small group of the idle rich in England just before World War II. While on the way to the south of France for an extended party hosted by the wealthy young playboy Max Adey, a group of socialites are stranded at a London hotel because of fog. What happens during this gossipy, flirtatious lull in their partygoing life is mainly summed up by one of the stranded partygoers: “There’s nothing to do.” Given the hollow values of these people, however, the reader soon realizes that they never have anything to do. The novel primarily consists of talk, most of which is talk about nothing. The only center of interest that could be called “action” revolves around the mild “battle” between the coquettish but reluctant Julia and the beautiful and seductive Amabel for the favors of the playboy Max Adey.
In contrast to the triviality of this triangular chase theme, there is the mysterious illness of the elderly Miss Fellowes and her obsessive concern with a dead pigeon she finds, which (although this motif also seems trivial) constitutes the symbolic center of the novel. In fact, the book opens by introducing Miss Fellowes with this puzzling, poetic sentence: “Fog was so dense, bird that had been disturbed went flat into a balustrade and slowly fell, dead, at her feet.” Miss Fellowes, a relative of one of the stranded partygoers, washes the bird in a ceremonial way, gives it to a young man (after which she feels better), and then reclaims it, and also her illness, as if she were bound to it in the same way that Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner is bound to his albatross.
The only other continuous action or repeated motif throughout the novel is the frequent reference to a man named Embassy...
(The entire section is 723 words.)