Out of the confusion of an unexamined life, Stanley remembers he has a daughter. He travels to Paris in search of her, carrying an empty suitcase, intending to buy clothes that might express someone new. As a guide to the city he buys second-hand copies of the three novellas of Beneath Napoleon’s Hat to see what remains of the avant-garde and its need to meet in bookshops and cafés.
Patchwork is a coming of age novel in two generations. It unravels the entangled lives of father and daughter. The young are students of each other and the art form each has chosen to express their developing selves. Beatrice is a poetess and scholar, self-enclosed, a mystery. Everyone is in love with Martha, the beautiful actress, who feels devalued by that beauty. Ralph would be a director; even a writer of plays and is studying drama in Paris. Beatrice is in love with Martha: out of love with Ralph. He knows, understands, and doesn’t entirely mind. He has the measure of Martha and is certain of the outcome of the hopeless but not pointless infatuation that engages Beatrice.
Everyone in Stanley’s office had the measure of Laura Crawford from the minute she strolled in, high-heeled, made-up, neatly coiffured and utterly false. All, that is, except Stanley. He was the moth to the flame of Laura’s candle.
Stanley was a scholar, never a practitioner but always an administrator of the arts. He left Oxford with a doctorate and a wife called Mary he’d met in a library one day. He took her home and put her on a shelf where she remained unopened and unread.
At the beginning of the novel Stanley is half-divorced, half-sacked and wholly ashamed. How had he got himself into such a mess?