This is an outstanding novel by a writer scaling the heights of British fiction.
It begins in the Crimean War when William Gale is tending for his recently slain brother Algernon. He sends a lock of his hair home.
Gale returns to his estates in Cornwall but – due to then undiagnosed post traumatic stress – does not settle and becomes estranged from his spirited wife Alice.
Perhaps she is having an affaire with Dr Edward Nolan, perhaps Gale is having one with the widow of deceased soldier Lockwood.
Anyway, Alice emigrates to Australia with Dr Nolan and Gale marries Sarah Lockwood.
The two branches of the family are estranged but, 100 years on, 17 year old Stephen Nolan invites himself to stay with the Clarke family in Cornwall, descendants of Gale through his sister Carolyn. In that heady 1970s decade of sex, drugs and rock and roll, all well- described, Stephen falls in love with the more beautiful Cass Clarke but has sex with her sister Georgy, the more sympathetic of the two sisters.
After a couple of domestic disasters, Stephen leaves with the Victoria Cross of Gale.
The novel jumps forward again when Hazel, sister of Stephen, who has just been widowed, decides to make a trip from Melbourne to see the home of the Clarke sisters.
Cass has now married a greedy architect called Adam whilst Georgy – after an initially successful acting career – has become a voice coach.
There is some dispute over ownership of the Victoria Cross.
Although the single daughter of writer Cyril Connolly, Cressida Connolly has an aptitude for depicting sisters, having written an engaging account of the beautiful Garman sisters from Walsall, two of whom married Jacob Epstein and Lucian Freud respectively and led colourful lives – and of two sisters in After the Party set on the south coast in the Mosleyite thirties.
Not only is this novel well-written, depicted and plotted, but I learned quite a bit about the Crimean War.
I never knew the Victoria Cross was’made of base metal so it had less value if sold though Adam valued it at £400,000, or that there was a far more successful Charge of the Heavy Brigade, or that The Times’ correspondent in Crimea was deeply unpopular