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 A sweeping novel, set in Shanghai and elsewhere, of the high life between the wars in which a rich young Englishwoman torn by loyalties to different cultures, and oppressed by a stifling marriage, finds true love at last. Aging Clio Oliver, McLeay's (Passage Home, 1990, etc.) latest protagonist, starts writing her life story on a visit to Shanghai, the city where she was born in 1910. It begins with her family's return to England in 1923. There to attend grandfather Matthew's funeral, Clio recalls seeing a woman and her young son stand apart from the Oliver family at the ceremony. The woman's presence seemed to disturb Clio's father and Uncle Kit, who have just inherited the Oliver shipping empire. Clio, soon sent to boarding school, misses ``the enchanted security'' of her Shanghai house and garden. She fondly recalls her unusual but surprisingly happy childhood there: the loving Chinese governess who brought her up after her mother died; her father's concubines; and the sensual dancing lessons given her by two young Russian exiles, Igor and Nina. Despite the family's immense wealth, English life seems drab, and, though Clio is soon caught up in the rituals of the upper class, she is never really happy. The young boy at the funeral turns out to be Stephen Morgan, whose mother, Catherine Oliver, had been ostracized by the family for marrying a sailor; Stephen is eventually, reluctantly, brought into the family business. Clio travels, parties, and makes a suitable but increasingly unsatisfying marriage. Then her marriage takes her briefly back to Shanghai, now under Japanese assault and much changed. But wherever she goes--Shanghai, the Scottish Highlands during the war years--Stephen, not only a brilliant businessman but a war hero, is somehow always there to rescue her from bombs and betrayals. One of those beguilingly detailed period novels too intelligent to be froth and too unpretentious to do more than tell an absorbing story with panache and conviction.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-312-14271-4
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1996