A fanciful family saga by English author Joyce (Smoking Poppy, 2002, etc.) depicts one of the most eccentric British households since the Mitfords.
With daughters outnumbering sons 7-0, the Vine family is intensely matriarchal—and the fact that Mr. Vine rarely speaks to anyone at home (including his wife) only makes it the more so. Vine’s wife Martha is the heart and soul of the family, a fiercely practical woman who runs her house like a well-organized battleship and brooks no mutiny from any of her crew. But there is an unexpected side to Martha Vine, who is secretly given to occasional visions and prophecies and can sometimes foresee the future. Of all her daughters, only the youngest, Cassie, has inherited Martha’s gift, and Cassie passes it on in turn to her son Frank, conceived in an ill-advised one-nighter with an American GI. Considered unstable by her more level-headed sisters, Cassie is occasionally confined to mental hospitals, but at Martha’s command she’s given shelter by each of the six sisters in turn. As a result, young Frank enjoys a peripatetic childhood, growing up in environments as varied as his aunt Una’s Warwickshire farm and his aunt Beatrice’s Oxford commune. Although none of Frank’s aunts is as unconventional as his own mother, they’re an unusual lot overall, ranging from spiritualist spinsters to free-love Communists, making Frank’s upbringing a good deal more cosmopolitan than that of the average working-class English boy of his era. His story is intertwined with those of his aunts and his grandmother and mother—and of his ruined hometown of Coventry, destroyed during the war but gradually built anew in the 1950s. In Joyce’s telling, it all becomes a portrait of England at large, at once traditional and irreverent, badly worn out by war but determined to start life over again.
A rich and engaging account of particular lives amid history and great change, narrated with real grace by a master storyteller.