British actress Woof’s ever-so-serious first novel concerns love, loyalty and passion among members of Britain’s creative intelligentsia.
Former dancer Katherine, now 33, feels trapped by her roles as wife to lawyer Adam (underappreciated and long-suffering), mother to little Kieron and part-time music teacher at a school for troubled boys. Ironically she also resents her parents’ inattention. Her father David has always put the Broughton Poetry Foundation, which he founded, runs and raises money for obsessively, ahead of family; her harried mother May has always put his welfare ahead of her three children. After attending a fundraising gala for the Foundation while Adam stays home with Kieron, Katherine begins a tumultuous affair with the poet Stephen Jericho, one of David’s protégés. Married to matter-of-fact Alison with whom he has two children, Stephen is struggling to write a long epic poem about his troubled family history—his grandparents were Polish Jews and he has always felt an outsider. He and Katherine seem to be soul mates. Even when he accepts an invitation for a cushy stint in America and decamps with Alison and the kids, Katherine believes they are meant to be together. Although she supposedly works her crummy job because she and Adam need the money, she finds a way to fly off to America for a tryst, which is cut short when she receives a call that David has cancer. David puts off treatment while trying to raise funding for an ambitious library he’s planned for the Foundation. David is a charismatic monster who has always surrounded himself with handsome young protégés. He is torn about his sexuality, although it is never clear exactly why, since May long ago accepted his sexual proclivities. But he’s hard to hate. A narcissist, David is also capable of acts of genuine grace. Katherine’s self-pity is far harder to care about.
The novel’s final image is so breathtakingly lovely that it’s almost worth the slog through chapters of navel-gazing.