A seemingly stable marriage is threatened when a woman from the couple’s past reappears in Londoner Glazebrook’s second novel (The Trouble With Alice, 2013).
When Clive fell in love with sophisticated, intellectually ambitious Martha during their senior year at Oxford, she clearly held the balance of power in the relationship. Besotted Clive brought her along on his bourgeois family’s Easter vacation, during which they hung out with his 15-year old brother, Tom, and Tom’s platonic girlfriend, Eliot Fox, an enigmatic mix of willful audacity and vulnerability who charmed the whole family with her piano playing. When Eliot got dangerously drunk, Martha and Clive worked together to care for her. Years later, Clive is a successful lawyer and Martha has left behind her career to raise their precocious, socially awkward daughter, Eliza. When Eliot turns up as Eliza’s music teacher, Clive is thrown into a panic: Will she expose the secrets he's kept from Martha all these years? Meanwhile, Martha has been chafing in her marriage and fantasizing about a life alone with Eliza. Soon, Eliot is ingratiating herself into Martha and Eliza’s lives, leaving Clive to squirm until he finally spills his guilty past to Martha. She is as disgusted as Clive assumed she would be. The two separate. Everyone, including Clive himself and even his mother, considers him a villain. Eliza’s schoolgirl crush on Eliot deepens, while Martha gets a great job offer and carries on a tempting flirtation. Whether or not Clive was ever as much at fault as he assumes, the question stops being is Eliot manipulating Clive’s family in vengeance against him? and becomes how far will she go to punish him?
Although the hidden incident at the core is predictable and banal, Glazebrook creates an air of faintly comic menace that grows more intense as the novel proceeds.