Kate Williams’ novel continues the saga of the de Witt family, in the aftermath of the Great War. The period covered is 1919-1926, and comparisons to Downton Abbey will be inevitable. Williams, however, is a writer of powers much greater than the soap-opera variety of Downton, with a knack for creating sympathetic, if not always likeable, characters and flawless dialogue. She captures the era perfectly, and Celia the book’s main protagonist gives it a name: ‘war fatigue’. There is a listlessness and lack of drive in many of the characters: without the war and with an uncertain future, what are they to do now? Celia feels too old and ugly for love and she fails at Finishing School. Cousin Louisa feels that at many of the parties she attends in London people are portraying a false gaiety, their smiles falling away when they think they are unobserved. Emmeline is fading from tiredness, raising twins. Rudolph, home from the internment camp, is in rapid decline; though barely fifty he looks eighty. The old order is crumbling, as all the drive and energy in the book is with those who wish to create a new order; Tom through business, and Samuel through protest.
The book is also a mystery and a family drama. The story opens with the death of a young woman, and the reader will spend 400 pages wondering, did she fall? Or was she pushed? We are given three points of view: Celia, Louisa and briefly, Arthur. While the mystery invites the reader in, it is the meticulous attention to detail and wonderful characterisation which will captivate readers and hold their attention. Williams is certainly a writer to watch.