Published posthumously, the final novel from prolific and genre-hopping Dunmore (Exposure, 2016, etc.) explores the impact of the French Revolution on 1790s England within the context of a gothic romance set in Bristol, where the author herself lived and wrote.
Newly married 22-year-old Lizzie narrates the evolution of her marriage to builder John Diner Tredevant, a relationship both passionate and troubled. While Diner is a businessman, Lizzie was raised by her widowed Mammie, who writes radical political treatises promoting human rights and whose second husband counts Tom Paine as a friend. Lizzie married in defiance of Mammie, who voiced reservations about Lizzie’s marriage to 36-year-old Diner because he was a widower as well as a businessman. As the novel opens, Lizzie, deeply in love, fears she is living in the shadow of Diner’s first wife, Lucy, who died while visiting her native France—echoes of Daphne du Maurier and Charlotte Brontë—but soon enough Diner’s jealous possessiveness becomes a bigger concern, as do the Tredevants’ finances. Diner is heavily invested in developing a terrace of grand houses overlooking the River Avon. While Bristol has been in a building boom, Diner’s business ambitions falter in England’s newly uncertain political climate when Louis XVI is dethroned, threatening the concept of monarchy but also introducing the specter of mob rule and the possibility of war between France and England. (Needless to say, Diner’s and Mammie’s views differ on the development.) When 39-year-old Mammie dies unexpectedly, Lizzie cajoles a reluctant Diner to let her care for her infant half brother, Thomas, in their home. Since Diner wants all Lizzie’s attention for himself, tensions increase. Then there are her new suspicions about his cloudy past and her growing if unspoken attraction to a young poet. Yet Lizzie remains emotionally entwined with the magnificently complex villain Diner.
Middling Dunmore, but middling Dunmore is still damn fine. Her death at 64 is a real loss.