This book has me questioning my country shelves. Country shelf is at the moment hovering between country of author/country of publication. The Friendly Young Ladies is set in England by an English author who lived most of her life in South Africa. Categorisation is no easy task. As for the book itself, for many, many pages it lives up the the back cover blurb of a 'stylish social comedy set in the 1930s', 'delightfully provocative', 'partly in answer to the despair of Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness' right up to the end when it got morose and despairing. Oh well. Mary Renault is deft, sharp and hilarious. She picks apart her characters' seams and then sews them up again. It's worth reading for the social comedy and not worth reading for the tedious last minute melodrama. Social comedy outweighs melodrama, btw, and if you stop at the end of Chapter 19 you'll have got most of the comedy. Trust me, the end will just make you want to kick an armchair psychiatrist. One of the best parts of the copy I read is Mary Renault's marvellous afterword, where she not only puts the boot in to poor, glum Radclyffe Hall, she begins, 'On re-reading this forty-year-old novel for the first time in about twenty years, what struck me most was the silliness of the ending.'Also, houseboats.And that's as good a last word on the book as anything.