Marguerite Carter never found life easy. She lost her parents as a child and worked for the French Resistance during World War II before coming to England with a desire to make the world a better place.
She left behind her French lover after the war rather than live a quiet life in rural France. Marguerite pours her energy into teaching, immersing herself in her students’ lives, while supporting political causes and attending marches and protests. She falls in love with fellow teacher Tony, but their relationship, to her disappointment, is destined to remain platonic. Eventually, she feels her age and growing irrelevance. Retirement and Tony’s death leave her feeling empty, until she travels back to France to reunite with her past. Hancock sometimes props Marguerite on a soapbox and uses her to speak out against 20th-century injustices—racial and economic issues, the arms race, the AIDS epidemic—but Miss Carter’s backbone is strong enough for the events of postwar England to be placed on her shoulders for an attempted fix. Hancock has managed to create a likable character in Marguerite, balancing her messiah complex with enough flaws to be fully human. Though the story covers a half-century of change, Marguerite remains the same. She retains her ideals and the determination she and Tony shared “to not do nothing.” She’s not happy even in old age without a cause to fight. Perhaps because of this, she’s never seemed truly happy. “We are who we are,” Hancock seems to say.
Hancock herself, an actress who's written memoirs (Just Me, 2008, etc.)—proves that old age is not a time to languish, having published her first novel at age 81.