Now that she is confronted with losing them, a middle-aged woman strives to finally reconcile her conflicting emotions toward her adoptive family.
Constance was named after the London street where she was found, a newborn hours old, under a hedge with only an earring as a memento of the mother who abandoned her. Both her looks (dark and wiry) and musical talent make her feel out of place in her family of plump, blue-eyed blonds. But she has no inkling of her origins until a callous cousin reveals them at the funeral of her beloved parent, Tony. Constance was, it appears, adopted by Tony and Hilda because they feared a second biological child might be deaf, like Constance’s older sister, Jeanette. The relationship between the two sisters has always been prickly, not merely due to sibling rivalry, but also to Constance’s tenacious attraction (requited as we shall see) to Jeanette’s husband, Bill. Weaving between past and present instances of family alienation, we learn that Constance has prospered as a composer for advertising and television and that she fled London for Bali years before after a brief, intense affair with Bill was exposed. The sisters have been definitively estranged since a wrenching encounter at the time of Hilda’s death. But now Jeanette emails Constance to inform her that she is dying of cancer and that it is time for a final reckoning. In a subplot that meshes gracefully, Roxana, newly arrived in London from Uzbekistan, is fleeing political unrest that has claimed the life of her brother. She’s determined to become an “English girl” even if right now her sole source of income is lap dancing. When she meets Noah, Bill and Jeanette’s 20-something son, Roxana’s life will intertwine with Constance’s in ways that shed light on the dislocation of both women. Constance’s belated investigation into her birth circumstances adds suspense to an otherwise meandering and leisurely narrative.
Despite rather superficial characters and some long-winded window dressing, a resonant and insightful novel.