January 13, 1997 12:00 PM

by Penelope Lively

Lively specializes in the distance between what, seems to be and what actually is. In her satisfying new novel, this gap between perception and reality is apparent at World’s End, the English country cottage of Pauline Carter, a divorced middle-aged editor. This summer, Carter is sharing quarters with her daughter Teresa, Teresa’s baby son and—when he’s not in London writing his book on the British tourist industry—Teresa’s husband, Maurice. The family takes weekend jaunts as part of Maurice’s research to cute “theme” villages offering an idealized view of England’s past.

The past is very much on Pauline’s mind this strangely torrid summer. She is thinking back on her marriage to Harry, a charismatic, faithless professor, and seeing—or thinking she sees—that Maurice is betraying Teresa as she herself was betrayed. Heat Wave can be a bit too schematic in its depictions of the present as so neatly echoing the past, but the novel makes clear that Lively knows well the topography of the human heart. (HarperCollins, $22)

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