Alexa appears at first glance to be a typical novel of infidelity, but among other themes it explores motherhood and the extent to which it can be reconciled with a creative life, and the nature of urban life contrasted with life in the countryside. These additional themes are introduced in the first chapter:
Alexa King is a novelist, travelling from London in her “Mary Quant suit” to visit her friend Christine, once known as a talented musician, but now married with children, and living in the countryside. On being greeted by Christine, Alexa notes that the smell of “[s]oap and talcum and urine and disinfectant and biscuits all all combined to cling to her, and to me it was the smell of children. I felt a wave of pity for her….”; and also notes Christine’s hands “red and cracked and rough, and then I looked at the grand piano that occupied about one third of the room and saw that its lid was closed and thick with dust and scattered with various childish objects.” Christine reports missing London, “’[a]ll dirty and noisy and wonderful’”; in her present circumstances, she suffers both an excess of contact from her children, and isolation from other adults: “She got up, still holding the baby; the two-year-old promptly seized her by the skirt. ‘At least you meet people. Even lonely old women on trains. I don’t meet anyone. But then I don’t go on trains. Come to that, I don’t go anywhere.”
Alexa finds the rural/suburban environment in which her friend lives to be horrifying. All she can see from the window of the cottage, with “oak furniture and chintz curtains”, were “vast expanses of nasty brown earth and green grass stretching away to the outline of the smart new housing development on the outskirts of the village.” Despite country weekends as a child, Alexa has “always had a horror of fields. They seem to me so essentially hostile to mankind and a threat to survival…”; she always sensed that the adults accompanying her felt the same way, that “for all their talk about peace and quiet, rest and relaxation… they wanted to get back to it, and they did. Sunday after Sunday, disguising their relief with expressions of regret but growing visibly more alive with each mile that brought them nearer to work, friends, amusements….” Of Christine’s village, Alexa later states of the customers of the village shop with acidity; those from the “housing-development near by” … “all looked curiously related to one another, all pretty and mousy and just under thirty with headscarves and tweed coats and practical shoes. But they were richer than Christine, and their husbands being commercial not academic…. And the shopkeepers knew them all, even Christine…. At home if a shopkeeper knew my name I should know it was time to move on.”
When Alexa meets Christine’s husband, Paul, she is immediately attracted to him, finding his handshake to have an “electric quality”, but feels patronised by his manner of inquiring after “the writing”. He has been instructed by Christine to entertain him while she “bathes the kids”, indicating both a household where labour is allotted based on traditional gender lines, and a cause of frustration for Alexa throughout the visit. As Christine is constantly called away by child care and cooking, Alexa has few opportunities for the intimate conversations with her that she wishes to have, and that it is at least strongly implied that she wishes to use for source material for her novels. However, on one occasion, while walking back from a shopping trip, Christine confides that what she longs for most is a “squalid bedsit… in the middle of everything.” where “you meet people on the stairs all the time because the phone’s on the landing, so there’s always a queue for it.” … “And that’s what I want again. Extremity. Or is it just youth?”
More hazardously, she necessarily spends significant amounts of time alone with Paul, presenting a temptation to act on their attraction to which both of them eventually succumb.
An intriguing feature of Alexa is that: the narrator is herself a novelist, and the work is presented as a traditional novel with chapter divisions rather than as a series of letters, a diary or less obviously novelistic form; however, the narrator does not at any point claim <cit