The head of a large and prosperous family walks for no apparent reason into the path of an advancing express train; a disgraced Royal Navy officer and his heiress wife fail to make their fortune in 1870s South Carolina; a young girl, abused by her stepfather, grows up looking for love and someone she can trust; a modern young vicar with a relish for progress marries into a family still clinging to their Victorian certainties; Charlie Chaplin roams the mean streets of south London, while in Oxford William Morris destroys the life of an innocent young bluestocking; young soldiers go to war and are never seen again.
This is an engrossing tale of a family that insists on correct behaviour and the avoidance of unpleasantness, even if the truth of their lives is often somewhat different. The story takes us from the height of Victorian power and confidence, through the social and technological upheavals of the early twentieth century, and into the First World War. At the heart of the story are three women: sisters Nell and Mary Harriette, one living life to the full and the other wishing she could, and Nell’s daughter Frances, who exchanges the unpredictability of life with her mother for the only too predictable world of her aunt back in England. The novel follows them and the people they love as each one navigates the narrow path between family expectation and private happiness.