Fiennes kin driven by `Blood Ties'

August 07, 1999|By Ralph Blumenthal | Ralph Blumenthal,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Long before she started working on an unfamiliar new computer that gave her migraine headaches and long before she learned she had cancer, Jini Fiennes conceived of her sixth and most ambitious novel, "Blood Ties," a cyclical tale of wounded generations and the redeeming power of love.

Writing again after years of struggle alongside her husband to raise seven children on little money in England and Ireland, she finished the book in 1989 and then absorbed rejection after rejection from publishers.

Now, almost six years after her death, "Blood Ties," written under her maiden name, Jennifer Lash, has been published to growing notice, thanks to the efforts of some of her children and their considerable star power. They include the actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes, who with their sister Sophie, a documentary filmmaker and producer, flew to New York last week from London for interviews and public readings.

"She had an urgency to realize this book," said Ralph (pronounced Rafe, the English way) Fiennes, 36, as the three sat in the lobby of their Soho hotel.

Yet, they said, she never shortchanged them for her own work. "She never did, my God!" said Sophie Fiennes. "I mean, no way! She was totally 100 percent there. It was us feeling kind of -- "

"Guilty," Ralph Fiennes finished her sentence. "For taking time away from her."

Jini Fiennes died of breast cancer at 55 in 1993.

It was during Ralph Fiennes' filming of the 1996 movie "The English Patient" that he spoke of his mother and the book to Michael Ondaatje, author of the novel on which that movie was based. He in turn referred "Blood Ties" to an editor at Bloomsbury Publishing, Liz Calder, who was moved by the book -- she said that at the end "I literally burst into tears" -- and secured its publication in 1997 in England and last year in the United States. Last year Bloomsbury also republished an out-of-print book Jini Fiennes had completed in 1990, "On Pilgrimage," a lighthearted account of a trip among cure seekers to shrines in France and Spain.

Their efforts redeemed a debt of love, suggested Joseph Fiennes, 29. "She had a high-octane kind of need to realize her work, so of course she had a lot of frustration," he said. Although she had published five earlier novels, they were not commercially successful.

While "Blood Ties" seems to have been published and reviewed on its merits, Sophie Fiennes, 32, said they knew their celebrity was a factor in boosting interest in it. "We're no fools, we understand why there's a visibility," she said.

"Blood Ties" tells the story of a gentrified Irish couple, Violet and Cecil Farr, living desiccated lives and so deeply indifferent to each other that they barely know how they managed to conceive a son. The boy, Lumsden, unloved and ridiculed, grows into a crass and self-centered scoundrel who seduces a barmaid and abandons her and their son, Spencer. A caring friend then dumps the neglected child on Violet and Cecil's doorstep for his grandparents to raise. No better able to love him than their own son, they cast him out into a hostile world where, against all odds, he conquers his demons and, with the fathering of yet another generation and the sacrifice of his life, restores the family's humanity.

"We heard her voice, reading it aloud," said Joseph Fiennes.

Pub Date: 8/07/99

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