With the sudden death of her sibling, a woman pitches in to take care of two orphaned children in this cozy, overstuffed domestic drama by English novelist James (Paradise House, not reviewed).
Felicity née Swift and her husband are killed in a car accident, leaving their two children, Carrie, 9, and Joel, 4, in the care of Felicity’s adored single sister, Harriet. A computer programmer in Oxford, Harriet has to quit her job and sacrifice her new boyfriend in order to move back home to Cheshire with her parents to care for the kids entrusted to her. It’s rough going at first, as the children are traumatized and often act out, and the grandparents, Bob and Eileen, are elderly and have issues of their own—Bob, a former salesman, enters into an affair to assuage his grief at the death of his beloved Felicity. Moreover, Harriet doesn’t really like children, and simply wants to get another job and house nearby. While probing her sister’s computer messages, Harriet finds that Felicity was involved in a hot affair with a man not her husband. In parallel complications, Will Hart moves across the street from Harriet in Cheshire, trying to put his life back on track after years of being divorced from the punishing Maxine, while maintaining sturdy relationships with his teenaged daughters, Gemma and Suzie. He becomes Harriet’s love interest, though there are others, and Will has to convince the much-younger Harriet that he is a worthy candidate by undergoing enormous grief of his own, first with Suzie’s pregnancy and abortion, then after her bizarre brain hemorrhage and death. Harriet explores transformed friendships with longtime neighbor brothers Miles and Dominic, the latter a Cambridge aesthete who loved Felicity dearly. The story tracks Harriet’s progress, both professional and emotional, as she finds a new job and new boyfriend, and in the end makes peace with the status quo.
A tragic pretext allows relationships to blossom in James’s sometimes laborious novel.