ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET
Jazz fans may recognize the title of this tepid novel about a love triangle set in 1960, but the reference (to a 1960 Miles Davis hit) will do little to enhance their appreciation of this disappointing work, the fifth novel from British writer Faulks (Birdsong; The Girl at the Lion d'Or; Charlotte Gray). Moving away from his trademark early 20th-century French settings, the writer tries out his meticulous brand of melancholy romance on mid-20th-century America. Charles van der Linden, a British diplomat posted to Washington, is in a serious slump: his investments are losing money, political suspicions poison his career and he increasingly turns to alcohol for solace. His gentle wife, Mary, is holding things together, but when the couple's two children must be sent to school in England, she finds herself at a loose end. On a visit to New York, she is shown the sights by newspaper reporter Frank Renzo, and the two embark on a passionate affair. The outline of the story is unremarkable, but it does have dramatic potential: will Mary leave her disaffected, alcoholic husband and her beloved children to join her soul mate Frank in his quasi-bohemian Greenwich Village life? But Faulks doesn't generate the intensity he is known for, relying instead on unconvincing interior monologues and flashbacks to flesh out the three characters. He has clearly done his homework on the period—details of current events abound, along with minute descriptions of what the characters eat, drink and smoke—but the descriptions are just filler. The novel feels unformed and inert, with reportage substituting for imagination, and never reveals the heart-wrenching power that characterized Birdsong. 10-city author tour. (Jan. 15)
Forecast: Birdsong and Charlotte Gray were bestsellers, but Faulks's latest effort looks unlikely to hit the charts, despite (or because of) its American setting. Faulks's earlier books, however, will soon get a boost: film adaptations of Charlotte Gray (to be released in the U.S. in early 2002 and starring Cate Blanchett) and Birdsong (unscheduled) are forthcoming.