A radical thinker, one of the rare modern heretics, said Mary McCarthy of Ivy Compton-Burnett, in whose austere, savage, and bitingly funny novels anything can happen and no one will ever escape. The long, endlessly surprising conversational duels at the center of Compton-Burnett’s works are confrontations between the unspoken and the unspeakable, and in them the dynamics of power and desire are dramatized as nowhere else. New York Review Books is reissuing two of the finest novels of this singular modern genius—works that look forward to the blacky comic inventions of Muriel Spark as much as they do back to the drawing rooms of Jane Austen.
A House and Its Head is Ivy Compton-Burnett’s subversive look at the politics of family life, and perhaps the most unsparing of her novels. No sooner has Duncan Edgeworth’s wife died than he takes a new, much younger bride whose willful ways provoke a series of transgressions that begins with adultery and ends, much to everyone’s relief, in murder.