A German bomb catches a husband in the wrong bed and sets off a string of discoveries that rearrange the lives of his survivors.
Jaime Gray was in the arms of his latest mistress when the war caught up with him. Across the park, his wife Ailsa was stirring up rationed ingredients to make a cake to mark the 16th anniversary of their loveless marriage while the couple’s 14-year-old twins, Margaret and Luke, were running home to dodge a rainstorm and the air raid. Jaime was not really much of a loss to the world. He disliked his wife and had little use for the children. But with his death went his income, leaving the unhappy survivors no choice but to accept the offer of Jaime’s brother Cal to bring them from London to the Grays’ Northumbrian mansion. Packing up prior to their departure for the North Country, Ailsa finds Jaime’s old diary and learns that her husband had married her on the rebound after an affair with Jessie O’Brien, a girl whom Ailsa had known well and who became pregnant by him but married an Irish sot. The relocation unsettles everyone. The twins, who badly miss their unloving father, don’t know what to make of their much more solid Uncle Cal. Jaime’s parents, whom he rejected when he fled his future in the family foundry, find the children unlovely. Cal’s tepid relationship with the only eligible spinster in the neighborhood weakens with the return of Ailsa, whom he once loved but who chose his more charismatic younger brother. Jessie Logan’s marriage is threatened by her son’s attraction to Margaret and the inevitable revelation that Margaret is his half-sister. If that all sounds over-the-top, it’s not. Gill’s unstylish, unornamented prose sets the old-fashioned story in a spare but sturdy framework.
A modest story well told.