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Isabel Bolton: Many Mansions

Two stories run in parallel in this novel and it is obvious that they are going to collide and they do, though not necessarily in the way you might think. Margaret Sylvester, now an old spinster and known as Miss Sylvester, is writing a novel which is a very thinly disguised autobiography. The defining moment of her life was the illegitimate child she had at a time when women of her class did not have illegitimate children. The child was quickly taken away from her and given up for adoption. She has not been allowed to contact the child in any way but has left money to her grandchild in her will. The rest of her life has drifted by in New York. The man she was going to marry married her cousin. She has a sort of relationship with a Jewish businessman but, after initially considering marrying him, subsequently turns him down on many occasions but is shocked when he tells her he is marrying his secretary with whom he has been having an affair for ten years. So she ends up unmarried.

When she advertises for a tenant – she is looking for a young woman – Adam, an aspiring novelist, hustles his way into the apartment and she reluctantly lets it to him. Her reluctance is soon justified as he first brings in a girl and then fails to pay the rent. Yet she unofficially adopts him as her son surrogate and helps him even when he moves out. We only find this out at the end as, at the start of the novel, Adam has been kicked out of his apartment by his girlfriend who has taken up with someone else. We follow him, bitter and miserable, as he moves his meagre possessions to another apartment in a cart. Most of his part in the book is railing against the ills he has been done by various people, particularly his (now ex-)girlfriend and her boyfriend.

This book is less successful than the two previous ones, not least because the relationships are at arm’s length. Though they meet in flashback, Miss Sylvester and Adam are destined to not meet in the present of this novel. Most of this novel is Miss Sylvester on her own and Adam on his own, both dealing with their fates in their respective ways and somehow the vivid pictures of New York that are in the first two novels do not come through.

Publishing history

First published 1952 by Charles Scribner’s Sons