Fairly standard material—an unfulfilled housewife has an affair she soon regrets—becomes compelling stuff in the hands of first-time British novelist Duncan.
Having lived her entire married life abroad, moving from one sandy, often dangerous spot to another (husband Neil is an engineer), Isabel is happy to be home in England, even if suburban life proves to be a bit of a let down. The couple’s newly built house has thin walls, and Neil’s daily commute to London is making him a diminished version of his once robust self—but never mind all that because it is certainly safer, and much better, for their two young children. But what about Isabel? At 36, she’s beginning to feel plump and useless, so when she’s offered a part-time job organizing Patrick Sherwin’s hurricane of an office, she happily accepts. Cautioned about Patrick, who has a notorious past with ladies of the village, Isabel ignores the warnings and soon finds herself in Patrick’s bed. The sex is so earth-shattering it makes the guilt manageable. Patrick warns her not to become emotionally involved, but of course Isabel can’t help but wonder about his past, and for that matter his present, when she’s not around. They soon begin to cross paths at dinner parties, but instead of unnerving Isabel, it is callow Patrick who is overcome at the sight of Neil. Patrick, contrary to his own oft-repeated advice, is now in love and offers Isabel a chance to escape her dull marriage. She can run away to Rome with him, and can even take the children. When Isabel declines the offer, and attempts to break away from Patrick, he does the unthinkable—if Isabel doesn’t return to him, he’ll tell Neil about the affair. Stuck between two self-centered men, the story turns to Isabel’s growing awareness that much of her adult life has been decided by others.
A gripping portrait of an affair gone bad.