This book starts at Christmas in 1940.
Two sisters-in-law are in a hospital ward together after they have both given birth to two sons with just a few hours apart. The prologue is presented from the perspective of one of the women, who remains unnamed. Her sister-in-law is Alice Lacey, who is already a mother to three girls, is sleeping after labour. The unnamed woman leaves her bed and wanders off. We know that she is not a happy woman; she compares herself to Alice and is left wanting. Alice’s husband is the good brother, attentive to his wife, hard-working, and brave. However, her husband, Billy, is lazy, a coward who wouldn’t volunteer in the war effort like her brother, and always getting drunk at the pub. Actually, when she went in labour, Billy left her just at the hospital steps while his brother, John, and Alice’s husband stayed with his wife until an hour ago when he had to go back to their daughters. The unnamed woman didn’t even want a child; unbeknown to her husband, she used some kind of sponge as a contraceptive method, but that didn’t work. The pregnancy came in the worst moment as she had finally convinced her husband to let her work in an ammunition factory, but when she told one of the women she was with child, she was given the sack.
The unnamed woman walks to the hospital nursery and sees her baby boy, who looks sickly and off colour, and then when he sees her sister-in-love’s son, she thinks he is a very beautiful boy. The woman is bitter, and thinks it is not right that her sister-in-law gets to have everything, so the last image we get is her getting inside the nursery. Does this mean that she changed the cards naming the boys so she gets to have her sister-in-law’s beautiful boy while Alice gets hers?
The novel moves forward in time. It is Christmas 1945, and Alice is in the hairdresser’s where she works. She is a hard-working, nice woman, and the customers appreciate her better than the owner of the saloon, who is a bit of a drunkard. We learn that things are not right at home with John, and it is when she gets back home, we discover what is wrong. At the end of the war John was working as a volunteer with the firefighters, and when he tried to save a sailor from a ship on which a boiler was about to explode, he got burned in the face and part of the body. Now his face has the marks of that accident, and he is not the same man he used to be. He feels disgusted with himself and doesn’t think Alice can love him. He is bitter, accusing Alice of being unfaithful to him and not letting her touch him. I feel sorry for John, but what he is doing is not right. Alice has also suffered with his accident, and he should get a grip of himself and stop feeling sorry for himself. His wife needs him, and if he keeps this attitude, he will lose her for real.