Bridget Jones's best friend's diary

SAVING AGNES By Rachel Cusk Picador USA 224 pp., $23

f you like sardonic British humor, you might enjoy "Saving Agnes," by Rachel Cusk. It's about twenty-something Agnes Day, whose view of life is nowhere near as sunny as her last name. Rather, a nightmarish vision of love and a general cluelessness regarding life characterize her self-absorption.

Cusk's prose is funny, in an intellectual way. One paragraph, for example, examines Agnes's dislike of her name, handed down from her grandmother. The narrator points out the bright side: "[Agnes] was forced to concede that to have inherited little from this lady other than her appellatory misfortune constituted something of a lucky escape."

The novel's humor isn't always so lighthearted, though, and a few scenes are downright disturbing. For most of the book, long sentences full of sarcastic qualifiers depict Agnes's morally, spiritually, and soulfully bankrupt life.

Then suddenly in a telescoped ending, Agnes discovers that life is ordinary and that happiness lies in making the most of the mundane. Unfortunately, too few scenes, too sketchily set forth, account for Agnes's uncharacteristically gracious acceptance of the ordinary stew life has dished out to her.

At the novel's close, Agnes meets a nice, normal, ordinary man. If she actually comprehends the flash of insight that occurs to her just before meeting him, readers might rightly hope that she is ready to appreciate what a good couple they could be.

Whether or not Agnes comprehends it, there's value for us in this flash of truth: "It struck her that faith was a free element, like air. One could have it for nothing. One could have it when one had nothing else. It was one of the comforts of ordinariness."

*Trudy Palmer is a freelance writer in Boston, Mass.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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