Lyrical ties

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 February, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 February, 1998, 12:00am

Chloe's Song By Leslie Thomas, Heinemann, $288 You . . . you make me feel brand new' - the words to The Stylistics 1970s song reverberate among the pages of Leslie Thomas' latest book.

Bewitching in their simplicity, they cement a bond between Chloe, a middle-aged woman, and her employer, an elderly aristocratic gentleman whose murder she is about to stand trial for.

She sang them to him not long after she went to care for him - and they represent all that a special relationship can offer to both sides.

They also neatly sum up her ambivalent feelings towards her life and the men that passed through it, but who ultimately let her down.

Thomas has written a novel that is filled with melancholy and eccentricity. We are not told, for example, who the victim is and in what circumstances he died until halfway through the book.

Written in the first person, Chloe sees her life as a failure - from her husband who never failed to convince her that she was wrong and he right, to her son who set fire to his school.

In her 40s and penniless, Chloe applies for the post of housekeeper with Sir Benedict and Lady Annabel Bowling, who live in Salisbury, England.

Chloe learns how the frail elderly couple in her care hide a terrible secret that involves Annabel's dead sister, Lucy, the first Lady Bowling.

And, like it or not, Chloe is to have a part in its final act.

At times the narrative wanders, yet somehow this wavering is all part of its engaging eccentricity.