Quietly moving debut about a mother and daughter whose long-hidden secrets threaten those they love.
In gratifyingly unself-conscious prose, British newcomer Macdonald (editorial director at Random House UK) begins her story as two small boys and their father go swimming at a public pool: As they leave, a gas leak causes a huge fire in which all three perish. Their mother, Lizzie, presumably visiting her own mother in another town, is actually with Roger Standing, her lover. Lizzie is also pregnant with Roger’s child, Beth, and after the tragedy she and Roger marry and move to London. Lizzie is determined that Beth not know the story, but, unable to hide her grief and guilt, she takes out her resentment on Beth, who consequently feels less close to Lizzie than to Roger—and is also drawn to a family on the same street, Jacob and Ruth Fredericks and their three sons. Dan, the middle one, is the same age as Beth, and the two are close friends, though Beth likes all the Fredericks, whose home seems warmer and calmer than her own. When Ruth suddenly leaves Jacob, though, and moves to Shropshire with her sons, Beth and Dan lose touch. Some years later, Beth, having become a TV editor, sees Dan again at his father’s 55th birthday party. Dan, now an artist, wants to date her, but she’s reluctant: she also has a secret in her past.
A modest tale, resonant with insight and empathy.