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August 2003
 
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The Girl in a Swing by Richard Adams (1980)

RICHARD Adams is, of course, best known for Watership Down, his classic tale of anthropomorphic rabbits in search of a new home. But Adams is more than just a skillful creator of animal adventures, a fact amply demonstrated by his compelling, surprisingly erotic supernatural romance, The Girl in a Swing.

The narrator of this underrated novel is Alan Desland, a staid, conventional young Englishman with an inherited—and deeply repressed—psychic streak. A "sexual non-starter," Alan has channeled his energies into his consuming passion for antique ceramics. On a business trip to Copenhagen, he meets the beautiful, enigmatic Käthe Wasserman, and that encounter changes his life.

Käthe is something Other: an embodiment of pure eroticism who seems directly descended from such pre-Christian fertility goddesses as Aphrodite and Ashtaroth. Alan succumbs to her primal power, marries her, and enters a realm of unprecedented sensual experience. This sexual idyll comes to an abrupt, tragic end when a secret from Käthe's buried past—a sin she can neither expiate nor escape—rises up, overwhelming her fragile relationship with Alan.

The Girl in a Swing is an elegant, beautifully composed novel about love and fate, guilt and punishment, Eros and death. Drawing its inspiration from such varied sources as fairy tales, classical Greek tragedy, and ancient pagan myth, it is a satisfying, deliberately ambiguous narrative whose essential erotic character is rendered with delicacy and restraint, and with a flawlessly sustained gravitas perfectly suited to the dark, allusive story that it tells.

—Bill Sheehan

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