Publication year: 2006
This book is set in 1917 in Durham.
The war in Europe is still raging. We get to know some characters. The first one is Erin Marsden, a young woman, whose father works in the pits. Her brother was killed in the war, and since then, her parents are not the same. Her brother’s best friend Kelvin McCormack is in town on leave, and Erin’s parents welcome the young man with open arms. Kelvin likes Erin, and when he asks her to marry him, she accepts and promises she will wait for him. However, some time later Erin has a fortuitous encounter with Sir Angus Ballantine, who after being wounded in the war is now blind. Sir Angus is in her forties, and Erin thinks he is really gallant. Shortly afterwards Sir Angus invites Erin to tea in his magnificent house. His single sister is there as well, and as soon as she is the house, Erin falls in love with the place. Erin continues seeing Angus Ballantine despite her mother’s disapproval. Then the man asks her to marry him, and she agrees, reasoning that Kelvin is young and will find someone else. Her parents forbid her from marrying Sir Angus, but Erin is determined, so she flees from home and takes shelter with her future husband. It is clear that Erin doesn’t love Sir Angus, but she is simply charmed by the big house and the allure of being the owner of something so luxurious. When they marry, Erin dislikes every minute of her wedding night, and the following day she discovers that all the luxury and opulence are a facade. Diana, Angus’s sister, tells her that there is no service because they can’t afford to pay staff and for a while now Diana has had to do everything around the house. She even hints that Erin could keep her job at the factory because they really need to money. I’m afraid this is not going well, and I imagine Erin will discover that one can’t marry anybody for simply a house.
Another character in the book is Lilian Coulthard, Erin’s friend. She is a mixed-race woman who got married when she got pregnant. Her husband died in the war, and her mother-in-law has never liked her. So despite the child she has, her mother-in-law ends up kicking her out of the house. So desperate Lilian considers ending everything and jumping into the cold river. Just then a voice greets her. It is Jake Armstrong, her late husband’s superior. Jake has lost his wife in childbirth recently and is in a low form. Now hearing Lillian’s misfortunes, he suggests she can stay in her empty house while he returns to the front. Lillian first refuses, but she has no arguments and has nowhere to go to. So Lillian lives there happily, and Jake even arranges for his father to find a job for Lillian.
Related to Jake, we get to meet Allan Jamieson. Allan is married to Jake’s wife, and he has a young son. His relationship with his wife is on the rocks. As he returns home on leave to attend Jake’s wife’s funeral, Kaye, his wife, is cold to him, and the day before he has to go, Kaye tells him that she is very hurt. He claims that he didn’t have to go to the war as he had a heart condition and he could have been spared, but however much Allan tries to reason with her, she won’t hear. The final nail in the coffin is when she tells him that she doesn’t love him any longer.
It is an interesting start, and I imagine that all these character will come together sooner or later.