In the second installment of Williams’ (The Storms of War, 2015, etc.) trilogy, the de Witt family struggles to find its place in post–World War I Europe.
Haunted by the ignominious death of her brother Michael, Celia, drifting between the faded grandeur of her family’s estate and her sister’s crowded flat in London, feels at odds with the world: no job, no family of her own, and no dreams for the future. Her cousin Louisa comes to live with the family for a while, but she and Celia become estranged, and Louisa elopes with Arthur, the oldest de Witt son and the black sheep of the family. The novel splits focus between Arthur and Celia, developing such dramatic storylines as a beautiful socialite threatened by a stranger, a murder trial splashed across the front pages, and a baby born out of wedlock. Williams explores the hypocrisy of an England that celebrates its soldiers while leaving wounded veterans begging on the streets, the emptiness of the Lost Generation, and the weary experience that renders women like Celia unable to find a place in a world of such loss: these are the true stories of the time period, and these are the details that make the novel poignant. Celia’s visit to cousins in Germany also exposes the toll the war took outside of England. Williams works to articulate feelings that her characters (and the people of that time) couldn’t, “otherwise the world would fall down around them. It was the bargain you made to live every day—you couldn’t show what was really going on in your mind because if you did, everyone in this station would be screaming and shouting against the blackness.”
Imbued with a sharp awareness of the devastating effects of war in any era, Williams' novel presents sympathetic characters who transcend history.