BOOK REVIEW / Daddy's girl does the irony: 'The Favourite' - Meredith Daneman: Faber, 14.99 pounds

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The Independent Culture
THIS is not another lurid father-daughter relationship on parade, but it is an obsessive one. Beneath a lithe wit Meredith Daneman portrays the grim strain on a girl forced into adulthood prematurely, not so much erotically but because her parents are big babies.

Rosalind's psychologically loaded Fifties childhood in Sydney is episodically recalled in Seventies Berkshire, where she later lives on seven acres with her two daughters and her cartoonist husband Frank, who depicts them all idyllically and uproariously for a Sunday newspaper. As a child, Rosalind bore the onerous privilege of being her father's favourite - the advocate her profoundly vague mother recruited to lure him back when he strayed. Muddled in with her pride in her father's gallant affability in public was Rosalind's fear of his thrilling temper and his capacity for suffering in private.

The problem for people who believe that life repeats itself, which Rosalind does, is that they live in mortal fear of irony. It would be just too ironic to bear, she reckons, after all those years of manoeuvring to keep her father from abandoning her mother, if her own husband walked out on her. Which is exactly what he does, with a 'hard-hitting' television reporter who isn't even younger. To compound the irony, Frank had been a married man when Rosalind met him, and she put in her own time as the other woman - so there was at least the possibility that he would prove to be a serial bounder.

In fact, Frank is in the habit of yearning: yearning for his wife when he's with his lover and for his lover when he returns to Rosalind. If at first there seems to be something a bit too 'boys will be boys' in Rosalind's acceptance of this betrayal ('In the egocentricity of my pain their affair was an illness I finally began to recover from'), her attitude is clarified through memories of her father's ultimate despair and the dread of an ironic repetition far worse than infidelity.

While the emotional weight of events as narrated by Rosalind is convincing enough, it is strange how shadowy some of these characters are. Her mother's hats get more detail than the woman herself. For all their looming clout, even the men evade much description. Rosalind makes a curious remark about Frank not featuring her in his early art work 'any more than I would be prepared to describe him in any detail here'. Well, where else if not here? It makes the reader feel like some kind of busybody for being curious about him. Of Rosalind, all we know is that her hair is brown.

Yet the novel unerringly and elegantly hits its dramatic target, and the impact is paradoxically uplifting, despite a remorseless line in depressing mottoes like 'Men never forgive the women they betray' or 'Loneliness is not just longing for someone else, it's the embarrassment of finding yourself suddenly in your own company.'