An English military wife has difficulty adjusting to her husband’s return from Afghanistan.
When Alexa’s husband, Dan, a career British Army officer, returns from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan, she expects his re-entry to be awkward. However she’s surprised when, instead of relishing his reunion with his wife, twin toddler daughters and teenage stepdaughter, he spends most of his time on base, helping soldiers in his battalion readjust from extended home leave. Alexa, who carries baggage from her own upbringing as the only child of distant parents in the diplomatic corps, can’t communicate her frustrations to Dan without starting an argument. Compounding her plight, Alexa's daughter Isabel is a virtual outcast at her government-sponsored boarding school, where she’s been accused of stealing from another girl. Alexa is also running interference on Dan’s behalf with his father and grandfather (old soldiers themselves) because he’s not ready to deal with his extended family. Worse, because of the uncertainty of Dan’s next assignment, she’s had to turn down a job with a private school that would have accepted Isabel. Instead of facing his marital difficulties, Dan brings his comrade Gus (whose wife, by walking out, has done what Alexa can only fantasize about) home to live until Gus weathers his rough patch. When Isabel goes AWOL from school and returns home, Dan and Alexa must confront the unstable core of their military family. Dan has apparently been affected by the horrors of battle, but aside from ducking at the sound of a woodpecker and talking in his sleep, this has to be one of the more muted descriptions of post-traumatic stress in modern post-warfare fiction. Trollope is less than sure-handed in her handling of this subject matter, preferring to prevaricate with endless and repetitive dialogue and rumination about the challenges of re-entering the democratic society and domestic tranquility soldiers are sworn to protect. The couple's emotional reckoning is more thoroughly articulated later, but the tedium of getting to that point is daunting.