In this literary novel, family secrets, friendship, and the resilience of love play out in a dinner party between two couples.
As this story opens in London, Eva Polk (née Harper) reacts with glee to news of a relative’s death, which exposes a big secret she’s kept from her husband of 10 years, Adam. The reasons are explained in the following chapters tracing Eva’s childhood, her father’s remarriage, her friendship with Karen Armstrong, her stellar success in the advertising business, and meeting and marrying Adam, who becomes a successful artist. Shared tastes and mutual passion overcome their differing backgrounds. Eva is white, Adam is of mixed race and adopted; Adam’s father is a plumber, while Eva’s was senior partner in a top-tier accountancy firm. Marriage doesn’t dull their feelings: “Every day they told each other that they loved each other every day more.” After 10 years, they start thinking about children, but Eva’s infertility makes them decide to adopt. At a dinner party with Karen and her husband, Jean-Claude, several truths surface, including an important secret Eva has been keeping. But Adam doesn’t focus on the injury to him; rather, he sees the secret as something she “had borne heavily…from now on Adam wanted her to know that he was bearing it with her—with, not against her,” a sentence that beautifully encapsulates what love is. As in his previous novels, Cacoyannis (Bowl of Fruit (1907), 2015, etc.) uses his familiarity with London, its various subcultures, and the art world to good effect. The themes of adoption and stepparents, as well as the mixed-race characters, reflect the way people live now. At times, and despite Eva’s secrets, the couple can seem too good and too fortunate to be true; apart from a brief episode of Eva’s “melancholia,” they have amazing sex every day. Nevertheless, the author draws forth their layered humanity. The book’s seriousness is relieved, complicated, and strengthened by its trenchant observations of horrible people, along with black humor involving Eva’s dead relative, a rare 1970s biscuit tin, and the wooden sculpture of a bleeding vagina.
A thoughtful, observant, and often humorous tale about real connections.