A versatile English novelist (The Glittering Prizes), short story writer (Oxbridge Blues) and biographer of Byron, Raphael has mastered the one-liner, the literary dig and the mockingly erudite reference, all used with relish in his latest collection of short stories. Nearly all concern the vagaries of a writer's life, most saunter intimately among the famous and the eccentric, and many make the reader laugh out loud. Some have O. Henry-like twists, like ``A Kiss on the Cheek,'' in which a dazzling woman writer who condescendingly bid farewell to a much younger author seeks him out years later for professional advice. ``A Long Story Short'' and ``The People in Euclid'' concern lovers' triangles. The first introduces a man who leaves his wife, marries the other woman, but later meets his first wife at a party and has an affair with her; the second is the tale of a marriage into which an outsider intrudes so successfully that he ends up marrying the woman, only to suffer the equally intrusive presence of her first husband. ``The Day Franco Came,'' a passionate indictment of the pomposity, greed and hypocrisy of petty officials in a dying Spanish town, is made more damning by its matter-of-factness and vivid setting. It is the finest story in a collection marked by urbanity, wit and sure mastery of material. (April)
The 17 stories in this third collection by the author of The Glittering Prizes are set in London and in Cambridge of the Fifties, in Jamaica and the United States, in English country houses and small villages in Spain. The characters are as cosmopolitan as their settings; sophisticates, they write, produce, or direct films and TV plays. Threading his way through several stories is an aspiring novelist who deserts literature for the big bucks promised by the real world and then deserts the real world so he can work on a novel. Raphael's prose is as brittle as his characters' conversation, and he endlessly plays with cliche: ``Selene went for what she wanted before what she wanted went.'' His stories are diverting, but they last in the mind no more than four minutes. Marcia Tager, Tenafly, N.J.