Corsair is one of my favourite imprints, a member of a select band that always published far too many tempting books to include them all when I was a reviews editor. One I had to drop, reluctantly, a couple of years ago was Cathleen Schine’s The Three Weissmanns of Westport which had kept me entertained on holiday. Fin & Lady is in a similar vein in that it’s an absorbing piece of escapism with enough of a dark edge to steer itself clear of cloying or overly sentimental territory. It’s a story of orphans: Fin, named on his father’s whim after seeing a French film, finds himself in the care of his half-sister, Lady, a 1960s Holly Golightly, beautiful and a little manic with a chaotic way of life thoroughly unsuitable for the guardian of an eleven-year-old boy. She likes to drink martinis, loves to read, takes Fin to unsuitable films, forgets to send him to school then finds a ridiculously progressive one when she remembers and appears to be in need of a guardian herself. Acknowledging the need for a little respectability, she sets Fin the task of finding her a husband: enter Biffi, a Hungarian art dealer, Jack, a student football star, and Tyler, already left at the altar once by Lady. When Fin is sixteen, Lady takes herself off leaving only a note telling him not to follow her, later summoning him to Capri where they first met when Fin was five and Lady was eighteen, fresh from jilting Tyler. It seems that Lady may have finally found her feet, and her match. Slowly we begin to understand that it is not to us that Fin has been telling his story.
Fin is an endearing character, eccentric and loving, busy reading Native Son and Alan Watts when he’s twelve while seeking the solace of friendship with Phoebe, herself the product of slightly odd parents. Schine’s characterisation is deft enough to prevent Lady from becoming a caricature of a rich over-indulged dilettante, her descriptions of Capri are seductive and the novel is replete with period detail but it is Fin who is undoubtedly the star of the show. Schine has a sharp eye for social observation which has led her to be compared with Jane Austen: I wouldn’t go quite that far but if you’re after a polished undemanding slice of entertainment to while away a few winter evenings Fin & Lady would fit the bill nicely.