John Freeman
December 05, 2003 AT 05:00 AM EST

A 28-year-old woman dies in childbirth, leaving behind overworked husband Andrew, a gaggle of nosy friends, and the title character of Faith Fox, a brisk comedy of manners by British novelist Jane Gardam. What follows resembles a game of hot potato, with baby Faith Fox passing from friend to extended family in a mini-tour of England’s still-present class system.

A former Booker Prize finalist, Gardam conjures each character with a brisk stroke of the pen, be it Toots, Andrew’s shabby North Country father, or Andrew’s brother, Jack, an eccentric priest who runs a commune filled with Tibetan refugees. In spite of her tragic provenance, Faith awakens a sense of hope in those she meets, turning this novel — so filled with the aged and the grief-stricken — into a surprisingly uplifting tale.

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