Olivia Manning, School for Love (Arrow, 2001)

untitledFirst published in 1951, this novel is by one of Britain’s important mid-twentieth century writers, who is best known for The Balkan Trilogy, a compelling account of life in Cold War Bucharest. School for Love is set in Jerusalem, and traces the growing into adult sensibility of the teen-age orphan, Felix. He has led a cosseted life with a kind, but possibly silly mother. Now he finds himself at the mercy of a true comic horror, his landlady, Miss Bohun. She leads a millenarian religious group, the Ever Readies, and always seems to find a way to profit from others as she declares her own pure and generous intentions. Felix falls into puppy love with a mysterious young war widow who also finds uncomfortable refuge with Miss Bohun, but learns that his own desires and those of the people around him are not always congruent. Fine spare writing and acute observation are softened by the author’s essential sympathy for her sad, struggling characters.