Subtle chronicler of London suburban life Durrant (Having It and Eating It, 2002) offers, in a second novel, a gracious study of the conflicted heart of the modern woman.
Owner of her own antiques boutique in Balham, on the outskirts on London, and content to restore and sell her beautiful, fragile objects, Martha Bones is not thrilled, when her stepfather dies, to have to take his messy cat into her home. Her other two sisters, the large, sentimental Geraldine and the elegant, angular youngest, Eliza, both married with children, feel rather sorry for middle sister Martha, who jilted perfect boyfriend David two years before and now seems resigned to her childless, single-woman-in-control state. An intriguing Dickensian family answers the ad for the cat: the father, Fred, has made a living as a magician since his wife left to “find herself,” and he lives in a junk-filled old building with his two small children clad in nutty, mismatched clothing. At the stepfather’s funeral, however, David reappears, a fastidious and rich dealer in old jewelry, and he and Martha seem to take up where they left off, though this time Martha lets herself believe that the things he offers—an apartment in Kensington, a fabulous new job, expensive clothing—are probably best for her. What should Martha be: the wife of the perfect match, and her own person, or a friendly restorer to the broken-down family who needs her? Durrant moves gently through the muddle of her characters’ lives—and there are a slew of them, from the extended Bones clan to Fred and his crew—fleshing out the complicated relationships and choices that make up families. She doesn’t patronize the reader with tidy answers: Martha’s sisters do not offer satisfying married models for Martha, nor is David terribly unsavory or Fred terribly attractive. A happily realistic close prevails: Martha is allowed to suffer a little.
A marvelously toned-down portrait of quotidian middle-class.