A small, quite wonderful story about manners and morals and the different kinds of love: Colgate's best since The Shooting Party (1981).
When Edith Ashby drives down from London to visit her younger brother, now in his 50s, the January weather is bleak as usual, but the rather forbidding farmhouse in which both grew up seems inordinately welcoming. And so does Alfred. Actually, that’s no surprise. It’s been a while, and though they disagree about virtually everything, the fact is they love each other. Brisk, efficient Edith, a stranger to indecision, objects to Alfred’s laid-back lifestyle, what she considers his undue passivity. Yes, he’s a well-known photographer, but what’s that really? You point and click. It’s not art, after all, despite the hyperbole. Meanwhile, what Alfred objects to is Edith’s immoderate energy. She keeps wanting to make things happen, to change things—thanks precisely to that part of her personality that got her elected to the House of Commons, an accomplishment he’s prouder of than she is. Still, he hates being the focus of her attention. There's minimal story here, but, nevertheless, during Edith’s short stay much is revealed about these two siblings. Points of view shift effortlessly—with Edith and Alfred traveling back and forth in time—as we learn about Edith’s two marriages, both troubled, though considerably at variance; about Alfred’s love affair, passionate, poignant, permanently wounding; about their parents, a relationship in which discord was nonexistent, as if by fiat. And about England—specifically, its 60 years of transition from a great power to a nation reinventing itself in the hope of becoming viable.
Colegate’s first to be published here in almost a decade (The Summer of the Royal Visit, 1992, etc.): sharp-eyed yet warm-hearted, unfailingly witty, impeccably written.