As Tom Grant saw it, when he and Louise turned up at London Airport to welcome Jay Nbola of Kenya, there was no reason for behaving as though anything extraordinary was happening: he had invited a friend to stay with them during his year at London University; what did it matter that the friend was black?
Louise Grant couldn’t see the occasion as all that ordinary, but it did give her the chance to prove she was none of those things she would genuinely have hated to be—prejudiced, provincial, reactionary. Thus Louise’s greeting to Jay was more cordial even than her husband’s.
In this affectionate and ironic novel, Nina Bawden has created two thoroughly decent and likable people. Yet the Grants, without realizing it, have settled for the most indulgent view of themselves and their own motives. The advent of a visitor from Kenya jolts that settled view. Reality gets under their skins: the presence in their homes of a “primitive” African triggers explosions of alarmingly primitive behaviour in their English hearts. And Jay Nbola goes through a considerable amount of hell before his host and hostess have suffered enough to see him as the wholly separate human being he is. When that has happened, they have also learned some crucial things about their feelings for one another.
First published in 1964, Nina Bawden’s dialogue is a delight, and her cool and wry compassion reveals the people of her novel as the very closest kin to all of us—under the skin.