This intensely remembered, partly autobiographical novel, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1989, describes the childhood of Billi, a girl growing up in Europe between the wars. When her father dies, she swaps life in a run-down German château for an exhilarating existence with her beautiful, talented and unreliable mother on the French Riviera. Sent away to England for schooling, the gypsy-like Billi ricochets between short-lived tutors and a life of reading, friends and public lectures. Returning to the Mediterranean, her unorthodox education - intellectual, emotional and sexual - continues among the vibrant community of artists, exiles and intellectuals who have colonised the coast, coaxing her towards a life of literature.
Bedford flirts with autobiography in her tale of Billi, an independent , sophisticated adolescent shuttled between her bohemian mother in Italy and a penurious family in England. According to PW , this is ``richly buttressed with details of social history, regional color and the artistic and literary scene of the '20s and '30s. . . . One feels that Bedford has achieved . . . `the translation from experience into art.' ''