Young love in old Europe; 80 years later, the search for a fortune.
Debut novelist Go splices two stories in his extravagant, superficial debut. First, Ashley Walsingham meets Imogen Soames-Andersson in 1916 London. You know Ashley's type: the laconic upper-class Englishman who works better on the screen than the page. Here, he’s heir to a shipping fortune and a mountaineer, loosely based on British folk hero George Mallory. Imogen has a Swedish father, a stuffy diplomat, and an English mother. She’s a bohemian who reads the French symbolists and smokes in public. Their attraction is immediate and intense. It’s crammed into a few short days, yet this is a love story for the ages. “You’re everything,” Ashley tells her. Well, not quite. There’s a war going on, damn it, and the newly minted officer must join the troops in Northern France, after the obligatory tense farewell at the train station. The brute realities of trench warfare crowd out their romance, which now seems ethereal. Ashley is badly wounded; a pregnant Imogen travels to France. He urges marriage; she insists he leave the army first. She’s an irrational 19-year-old, causing disaster. Her father decrees she have the baby secretly, in Sweden; it will be raised by her sister Eleanor as her own. There’s a further complication when Ashley, who survives the war, stipulates his fortune must go to Imogen and her descendants. This opens the door to a second storyline, on a parallel track. It’s a trifle. Tristan, a young Californian, is told by a London lawyer the fortune is his if he can prove Imogen was his great-grandmother. The guy is a windup toy; Go sends him on a document search, traveling from Sweden to Paris to Berlin to Iceland to beat a seven-week deadline. On the other track, Ashley is part of a 1924 Everest expedition, braving the howling Himalayan wastelands, still bolstered by his love for the lost Imogen.
Go is a maximalist (lofty emotions, extreme settings) punching above his weight.