The seven ages of man, and woman, are traced against the tremendous historical and social shifts of a switchback century.
“He could bend, she could not.” That, in a nutshell, is the dynamic of the marriage between Harry Miles and Evelyn Hill, a union that starts in the early years of World War II, stretches over multiple decades, and concludes in fog, fading, and—for readers of this new novel from Page (The Two of Us, 2016, etc.)—quite possibly a lump in the throat. A tale of England in the second half of the 20th century, of social mobility, sex, love, and pain, it’s also an appreciation of poetry, the literary form that Harry discovers as a schoolboy and which remains his touchstone throughout a long life. A scholarship boy, Harry transcends his working-class origins thanks to education and a “good” war, emerging to father three clever children, build a comfortable new home, and secure a solid white-collar job. His other constant is his love for Evelyn, although their natures are not a perfect match. Harry is patient and peaceable, while Evelyn is more driven and increasingly intransigent. Page’s treatment of what is in essence an ordinary story of two English people’s long domestic involvement against a rolling pageant of external events quietly hums with emotional charge. The war years, with Harry fighting in North Africa and Evelyn struggling with a young child at home, are especially vivid, but this watchful, empathetic chronicle retains sensitivity through the less obviously eventful decades of home-building and child-rearing. Harry’s perspective dominates, the inner landscape of a man attuned to nature, to detail, to old-fashioned virtues. Querulous, perfectionist Evelyn hardens and flattens into two dimensions as the arc of the marriage tips down toward its late phase, yet Page’s watchful and very British tale remains devoted to both and forgiving to the end.
A searching, and touching, depiction of the places where married lives merge and the places where they never do.