Easter At The Lakes by Sara Hylton
(St. Martin's, $23.95, G) ISBN 0-312-20535-X
*
The British novels I've read in the past few years have generally fallen into two categories: cozy and charming, or humorous and ribald. Unfortunately, Easter At The Lakes fails to meet either of the above criteria. Full of dull and distasteful characters, and weighed down by a mundane plot, it made no impression on me other than a strong urge to get it over with and move on to something more fulfilling.

The story centers around a year in the lives of several individuals who converge on a mountainside resort called The Lakes during one Easter holiday. The author begins the book by describing how The Lakes was built in the 1950s, but it is impossible to tell if the majority of the book's action takes place then or in present day England because of the lack of any historical context.

Mary Styles, a quiet librarian in her mid-thirties, is the nominal heroine. Mary is sweet but passive and completely dominated by her semi-invalid mother and her married sister. One spring, a handsome businessman begins frequenting the library and strikes up a casual friendship with Mary. He mentions that he is planning a holiday at The Lakes, and after much agonizing Mary decides to spend Easter at the resort, despite the extremely vocal objections of her mother and sister. When Mary arrives at The Lakes, she finds that the anticipated object of her affections has not been completely honest with her. But a promising relationship does emerge from an extremely unexpected source, and by the following Easter Mary's life looks quite different.

The novel also follows the life of Stuart Mansell, a Member of Parliament and Alison Gray, his secretary/mistress, who is demanding that he make a choice between her and his wife. There is also the saga of Geraldine and John Broadhurst, who live in Stuart's district, and their daughter Debbie, who has rushed into an impetuous marriage and plans to honeymoon at The Lakes. Lord Andrew Alveston has recently returned to his estate adjacent to The Lakes after a tragedy sent him into years of self-imposed exile, and he too interacts with the visitors at the resort.

I can appreciate subtlety in my novels but Easter At The Lakes is just plain dull. The characters are, for the most part, either passive or unsympathetic. Mary lets her mother and sister walk all over her for so long that I just wanted to shake her. Even when she finally falls in love she keeps apologizing for her perceived shortcomings. Stuart is such a jerk that I could not conceive why Alison had stayed with him for 14 years or why she wanted him to leave his wife. Lord Andrew is the only character who is almost three-dimensional, but his relationship with his butler is more engaging than his eventual romance.

The interactions between the characters are so superficial that it is impossible to tell why one character falls in love with the other. And their demonstrations of love are so mundane I almost nodded off. Mary's soul mate loves her because she is "uncomplicated and thoroughly nice." How romantic can you get! And a male character proposes to a female character is a similarly uninspiring manner:

"If you are asking me if I love you the answer is yes I do. If you want me to ask you to marry me, then yes I will, hopefully sometime at the end of January so that we can spend a few blissful weeks in some desert oasis or some more populated place, I'll leave that to you."

Be still, my beating heart!

The novel's plot isn't much more rewarding for the reader. It's moderately interesting to see how the characters' story lines intersect with each other, but none of the resulting plot developments are anything original or unique. Sara Hylton's writing is competent but unremarkable.

Maybe Easter At The Lakes is an example of that famed British reserve and as a loud, sloppy American I just don't get it. Sara Hylton is the author of several previous novels and is apparently well regarded in her native land. In general, St. Martin's Press has done an admirable job of introducing British authors to American audiences, but this is one book that they should have left on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

--Susan Scribner


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