The first book in a new series, a family saga called The Clifton Chronicles, slated to cover 100 years.
It’s 1919, and a young woman named Maisie, on a day’s holiday in Weston-super-Mare, England, determines to lose her virginity while her future husband spends the afternoon at a pub. And so the subsequent birth of her son Harry raises the first of many questions readers will have little difficulty guessing in advance: Who is Harry’s actual father? Harry is told his father died in the Great War, but he’s skeptical. His subsequent story spins out in a series of overlapping narratives that lead to a great deal of overlapping details, otherwise known as padding. At the age of 12, Harry demonstrates a keen mind and sings with a rare quality. His mother, of little means but great determination, thus resolves to enroll him in public school where he will receive a strong education. At school, Harry befriends the loyal Giles Barrington, the son of wealthy Hugo Barrington, who, for reasons apparent to everyone but Harry, remains aloof, uneasy and guarded around Harry, especially when, a few years later, Harry takes an interest in Hugo’s attractive daughter Emma. Eager to see Harry on to Oxford, Maisie opens a tearoom with great success. In a melodramatic turn—like many here, laid on with a trowel, but with little evocation of time and place—someone burns Maisie’s tearoom to the ground. Maisie suspects Hugo as the culprit and proceeds to blackmail him with information about the fate of her husband. The dastardly Hugo responds to her with a double cross laced with abject physical cruelty. Meanwhile, the Second World War looming, Harry and Emma decide to marry. As they stand before the rector, a guest stands and halts the proceedings. The revelation that follows will elicit few gasps from those who weren’t there that day.
For all its considerable girth, remarkably thin.