July 20, 1987 12:00 PM

by Julian Gloag

Nobody produces better drawing-room comedy than the British, and this small novel is a first-rate example of that fine art. There are four main characters: Rupert, a schoolmaster who has just quit his job and left his wife of 25 years; his father, Oliver; his mother, May, and his daughter, Miranda. The action takes place over a weekend, and the book is mostly talk—delicious, funny, revealing dialogue. Oliver, in his day, was a well-known architect—Frank Lloyd Wright stayed with him once on a visit to London—and he has planned a city in the shape of a pyramid. His wife is in poor health. She dreads telling Oliver that she needs to go into the hospital. Miranda is a medical student, practical and kind to her grandparents, glad that her long-suffering father has left her militant, feminist mother. Oliver delivers choice observations such as “one of the great privileges of old age [is] to be totally inconsistent.” He and May have a testy, entirely believable relationship. Only Yesterday does a splendid job of defining three generations bound by family ties that are stronger than foolishness, ill will, even meanness. Gloag, author of seven other books, mocks the polite world in which his characters live and does it with just the right combination of wry humor and loving sympathy. (Holt, $15.95)

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