Bainbridge's 16th novel--and the third consecutive one based on historical fact (following The Birthday Boys, 1994, and Every Man for Himself, 1996)--offers perhaps the most brilliant demonstration yet of her matchless gift for storytelling concision and subtle suggestiveness. George Hardy is a successful Liverpool surgeon and amateur photographer--and a closeted, depressed alcoholic and homosexual who will seek his manhood by volunteering his services to soldiers wounded during the Crimean War. We learn these facts, if little else about Hardy, in six chapters narrated by the three people who believe they know ""Master Georgie"" best: the orphan girl Myrtle (adopted by the Hardy family), who devotes her life to him, even unto surreptitiously bearing the children his barren wife claims as their own; his brother-in-law Dr. Potter, a geologist and classical scholar whose portentous mid-Victorian homilies can neither explain nor even reach the distracted George; and Pompey Jones, a resourceful street-urchin and performer (specializing as a ""fire-eater"") whose accidental entry into the doctor's life makes him the latter's all-purpose assistant, and occasional lover. From a deftly understated narrative keyed to six glancingly described photographs (each marking an important moment in her ""hero's"" life), Bainbridge creates a haunting picture of a world in which human relationships are ruled by accident and people's understanding of others is decisively distorted and limited by their own inner natures. The great events (such as the Charge of the Light Brigade) and figures (Florence Nightingale) of the Crimean ordeal linger faintly in the background as the ghastly momentum of the war's carnage (climaxing at Sebastopol) is filtered through the expertly differentiated consciousness of the three narrators. And, in a triumph of imaginative empathy, Bainbridge captures the mystery and pathos of her characters' essential aloneness in such distressing images as the sight of cherries rotting in a dead soldier's lap or our final view of Myrtle, hovering in grief ""like a bird above a robbed nest."" An exemplary work from one of Britain's freest writers.