“The Blue Bath”
By Mary Waters-Sayer
St. Martin’s Press (307 pages, $25.99)
At first, “The Blue Bath” seems to be just a particularly well-written take on an old story, one often encountered in more sophisticated “chick lit” -- the pleasures and perils of an extramarital affair. Kat Lind, an American married to a very busy English businessman, is conveniently left alone at their posh London home while her husband goes on a long business trip and their little boy stays with her in-laws so she can mourn her mother, who’s just died of cancer.
To distract herself from her grief, Kat goes to an exhibit by Daniel Blake, an artist who was her lover 20 years earlier in Paris, and darned if the giant paintings hanging on the gallery walls aren’t of her in the buff. She’s mortified -- or is she thrilled? One thing quickly leads to another, and soon Kat and Daniel are enmeshed in a torrid, troubled affair that is both enhanced and inhibited by Daniel’s youthful paintings of Kat’s body parts, which suddenly become all the rage in the London art scene.
Neither Kat nor Daniel is particularly likable, partly because their wealth gives them plenty of time and privacy for middle-aged angst. What sets this novel above other gauzy, wistful escapist tales of American women having affairs in Europe is how well it’s written, without pretense or bad psychology, and its realistic portrayal of how much damage an affair can wreak. Waters-Sayer is able to convey both the mad pleasure of such passion and the cruel wounds it inflicts upon the guilty and innocent alike.
In Kat and Daniel’s case, the secrecy becomes an isolating trap, and the novel’s bizarre ending, while melodramatic, is also wholly believable. This perhaps unintentionally anti-romantic novel paints a lot of pretty pictures, then destroys them. Reading it makes for a fine guilty pleasure. (TNS)