Adela Ripple, last seen in Weldon’s Long Live the King (2013), manipulates her daughter and anyone else she can get her hands on in order to preserve her own wealth and status.
Weldon (Mischief, 2015, etc.) begins in 1922 with the image of Adela’s daughter, Vivvie, “single, large, ungainly” and, “moreover, mildly Asperger’s,” waiting for a train to London. Vivvie “means to propose to Sherwyn Sexton,” an aspiring novelist working for her father, Sir Jeremy Ripple, a socialist publisher and Old Etonian. She very practically suggests that Sherwyn will be wealthy and free to write if he marries her and that he will also be free to have affairs. Sherwyn is presented at first as a selfish, vain man, but as the book unfolds, he becomes more sympathetic, rising to the example of Rafe Delgano, fictional hero of a series of thrillers he goes on to write. He also comes to see with clear eyes that Vivvie is a victim of her self-absorbed father and her selfish, vain mother. Weldon deploys her usual opinionated narrator, who occasionally steps outside the story to offer asides about the characters; Adela, for instance, “turned out not to be a good person at all.”
Interjections of authorial opinion and wit entertain, the occasional appearance of real historical characters (such as Somerset Maugham) lends an air of reality, and the rotten mother is a literary car crash, impossible to go past without staring.