Neil, Barbara

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NEIL, Barbara

PERSONAL: Born in London, England; married Andrew Christie-Miller; children: five.

ADDRESSES: Home—Wiltshire, England. Agent— Gillon Aitken Associates, 29 Fernshaw Rd., London SW10 0TG, England.

CAREER: Novelist.


As We Forgive, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Someone Wonderful, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1988.

The Possession of Delia Sutherland, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday (New York, NY), 1994.

A History of Silence, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.

SIDELIGHTS: Barbara Neil's first novel, As We Forgive, mines the theme of forbidden love, in this case the love of an older man for a younger woman. Lydia Evans, the protagonist, is an ordinary woman who shared a childhood friendship with Nathalie Wavell.

Nathalie is the product of a wealthy family and Lydia has always longed to be a part of it. As a young woman, Lydia chances to meet Ben Wavell, Nathalie's father. Hurting over the departure of his wife and Nathalie, Ben begins to fixate on Lydia, who, in turn, welcomes Ben's obsession. Neil uses flashbacks to tell the story and convey the theme of obsessive love. According to Jeanne McCulloch of the New York Times Book Review, Neil's prose in As We Forgive is "compelling," and the book "mark[s] the debut of a talented new author." Kathleen Kearns of the New Republic noted that Neil's characters seek absolution, and that Neil delivers the theme "with exquisite control, establishing an almost psychic relationship with her readers, an ability to show us only what we are willing to accept."

In Someone Wonderful Neil tells the story of Lily Teape, a girl who was only six when her wealthy mother died. Lily, a quiet, gentle girl, lives with her grandparents, who have doubts about the girl's paternity. A bleak childhood stretches ahead of Lily until her Aunt Grace enters the narrative. Aunt Grace, widowed by the same accident that killed Lily's mother, takes Lily to London, where the girl enters a whirlwind of social activity. She becomes a sounding board for the troubles of the people around her, including Oliver, Grace's brother, an adventurer with experience in Africa; Oliver's wife Melissa, a journalist; Sebastian, the blind son of Oliver and Melissa; and Grace, who runs a home for neglected children. Lily's maturation into a lovely young woman is complicated by her desires and the desires of others. Lily remakes and sells vintage clothing and finds forbidden love while Grace ventures into a second marriage. The characters in Someone Wonderful "move from abandonment to rescue and back," commented Nina Sonenberg in the New York Times Book Review. A Publishers Weekly reviewer stated that Neil "writes with grace and heart, and not a whit of sentimentality."

Neil's third novel, The Possession of Delia Sutherland, is narrated by the title character. Delia is, according to Peter Matthews of the London Observer, a "great, goosey" woman "whose very virtues make her ghastly." Writing about her experience at a table in a Marseille café, Delia reflects on the events that brought her to southern France and into hiding. A reviewer for the Library Journal called The Possession of Delia Sutherland "a haunting tale about a shy woman's elusive search for love." Marina Rust of the New YorkTimes reported that The Possession of Delia Sutherland is "beautifully written, funny, and absorbing," and that Neil's "depiction of the state of affairs in an English country house [is] . . . dead on."

In the 1998 novel A History of Silence, Neil plumbs the depths of familial sexual abuse. While a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that some readers may feel that the book's "ending disappoints," the critic praised Neil's "elegiac, mesmerizing prose." According to Jennifer Higgie of the Times Literary Supplement, Neil "transforms a sad and all-too-common story into a complex meditation on the nature of love and betrayal."



Booklist, March 1, 1994, p. 120; September 1, 1998, p. 67.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1994.

Library Journal, April 15, 1989, p. 82; March 15, 1995, p. 120; September 1, 1998, p. 216.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 6, 1986, p. 4.

New Republic, May 12, 1986, p. 37.

New York Times, April 24, 1994.

New York Times Book Review, February 9, 1986, p. 24; August 6, 1989, p. 18; April 24, 1994, p. 22.

Observer, November 6, 1988, p. 44; August 29, 1993, p. 51.

Publishers Weekly, March 3, 1989, p. 82; February 7, 1994, p. 71.

Times (London, England), August 5, 1998, p. 14.

Times Literary Supplement, September 3, 1993, p. 24; July 31, 1998, p. 19.*