From the British author of Monsieur de Brillancourt (1994) comes this aristocratic, sometimes inaccessible muddle through which two memorable characters emerge. The eccentric Imogen Holt (from Manta, Italy) and the irrepressible Jessica Grantsby-Harte (a diplomat's daughter who has lived all over the world) are among the only non-Catholic students at the unbearably strict Convent of the Immaculate Conception in England. As outcasts, they strike up a lifelong friendship--described here by Imogen in a series of flashbacks framed by a sketchy modern-day narrative about a middle-aged Imogen and Jessica clearing out an attic full of letters, journals, and memories. After the convent and the Sorbonne, the girls are rarely in the same country at the same time, but they make equally bad decisions when it comes to love: Imogen loses her heart to the worldly Anthony, then catches him locked in an embrace with her twin brother, Simon; and Jessica marries the irascible Dermot, a young man who later drowns in a drunken accident. A triply brokenhearted Imogen (having lost Anthony, Simon, and Jessica--to Dermot) marries the ever-unfaithful Enrico, a suitor from her Paris days, and moves to Washington, D.C., for his career. Through it all, Imogen's insightful grandmother tries to guide the impulsive pair, but it takes the wisdom gained from their own mistakes to make Imogen and Jessica realize their shared destiny. Although their conclusion seems motivated more by a mutual hatred of the men who've used and abused them than by any genuine passion, the soulmates become lovers and live happily-ever-after with their respective offspring in Imogen's childhood home. Unbearably stilted in spots--characters speak in lengthy monologues, frequent passages in several foreign languages prove a daunting turn-off, and the intended-to-shock finale is coy--and yet, overall, Imogen and Jessica are an engaging pair.