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THE BEST BOOKS OF 1996 | FICTION

HEAT WAVE By Penelope Lively; HarperCollins: 215 pp., $22

December 29, 1996|FAY WELDON

"Heat Wave" observes the English literary classes at work, at play and in emotional pain. It is set in the stillness of the English countryside, in an old stone cottage, World's End, which stands in the middle of a wheat field.

We watch the seasons change as we watch the changing seasons of love. Pauline is copy editing an over-the-top historical novel on the subject of romantic love. Sharing the cottage for the summer are her daughter Teresa, her little grandson Luke and her self-satisfied son-in-law Maurice, who is writing an allegedly controversial book on the myths of the rural paradise and the horrors of Theme Park Heritage.

Under Pauline's and Teresa's noses, Maurice the unguilty and ever-happy falls in love with Carol, his guest and his publisher's wife, and the pain of watching it is exquisite.

A very English novel, indeed, in its ability to disturb by understatement: This portrait of a world where the noisy emotions the therapists would have us shriek aloud must be bitten back, not spoken aloud, and are the more real for it.

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