Book review: Fin and Lady by Cathleen Schine

Fin and Lady
Fin and Lady
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And now for something completely different… celebrate the season of joy with a bittersweet, funny story about an unconventional brother and sister relationship.

Fin and Lady is an addictively exuberant and offbeat homage to sibling love and the Swinging Sixties from the very talented US author Cathleen Schine, dubbed by one reviewer as ‘a modern-day Jewish Jane Austen.’

This magical mix of comedy, romance and acute observation certainly has the spirit, wisdom and playful character of the great English writer as we journey through an orphaned boy’s coming-of-age odyssey with his free-living, free-loving half-sister in bohemian Lower Manhattan.

Lady Hadley – a ‘jittery’ and ‘majestic’ 24-year-old brimming with ‘tentative wildness and reckless dignity’ – is a conundrum to her farm-raised, 11-year-old brother but together they prove a delightful odd couple as they negotiate a decade of war and civil rights protests.

It’s 1964 and newly orphaned Fin has been whisked away from the quiet of rural Connecticut to fashionable Greenwich Village by his glamorous, worldly and wealthy sister Lady.

He hasn’t seen Lady for six years but she is now his legal guardian. She is also the strangest person he has ever met. Lady doesn’t eat much – ‘Good grief, I’d be as big as a house,’ she likes drinking gin, her ‘special water,’ and has quick, violent changes of mood – but they are ‘family’ and he loves her.

With the help of Lady’s lovable maid Mabel, Fin slowly adapts to his fast and colourful new life and sets about helping Lady with her latest grand plan… to be married by the time she’s 25 because ‘after that, you really do become pathetic.’

But courting Lady will be no easy matter for her string of suitors, particularly Tyler Morrison, the stuffed-shirt lawyer she jilted at the altar a few years back, and Biffi Deutsch, the sensible, Hungarian-Jewish art dealer’s son who gets Fin’s vote.

With the Sixties swirling in kaleidoscopic colour all around him, Fin soon learns that his giddy, careless, obsessive sister is going to be as much his responsibility as he is hers…

Schine, whose previous novels include The Three Wiessmanns of Westport, The New Yorkers and The Love Letter, is adept at putting the intrinsic joys of living into the complex business of life.

Fin and Lady speaks loudly of youth in all its unbridled enthusiasm, eternal optimism, anxious contemplation and charming vulnerability whilst moving from high comedy to affecting tragedy in the blink of an unsuspecting eye.

Warm, witty and effervescent but threaded through with a sense of palpable foreboding, this is a sparkling addition to Schine’s classy stable of books.

(Corsair, paperback, £7.99)