This is a gripping family saga which covers several generations. I read the whole book yesterday, and I really loved it.
The point in the novel that the story stems basically on is when Nicholas, who becomes upset when Juliet breaks up with him, attacks and rapes her. The only person who knows about the rape is the girl who lives with her and Neil. A few days later she gets a visit from the police, telling her that Nicholas has committed suicide. Weeks later she realises she is pregnant, and when she tells Neil, she comes up with a solution. She will get married, and that way, she will be spared the scorn and suffering, and the child will have two loving parents. The marriage will not be a real one because Neil is gay, but they reach this agreement.
When they announce the engagement to Ellie, the woman also tells them that she is going to be married. The lucky man is Andrew, an old friend of Colin’s, Juliet’s father, who contacted her a few years ago. After her short marriage to Colin and her disastrous one to Frank, this will be the right one for Ellie. Andrew will prove to be a good man and the support Ellie needs.
Juliet has a baby daughter who she calls Molly. The arrangement with Neil proves to be good. Neil has taken his role as a dad with a vengeance. He has his loves, men who stay with him and Juliet as lodgers, but they don’t last long. Juliet, though, feels that her life is incomplete. She had to leave her work at the theatre, and the first job she finds after being a mother is as a story teller in the library. Then she starts working for Andrew, who is an antiques dealer, and she loves the job. When she goes away on a business trip for Andrew, she decides to go and see a play. There she meets Ashley and his sister, and Juliet starts an affair with Ashley. He even moves in with her and Neil, pretending to be a lodger. Juliet tells Ashley that she and Neil have an open marriage, and the relationship with Ashley lasts years. Actually, he occasionally asks her to leave Neil, but Juliet won’t do it. Neil and Juliet swore the day they decided to marry that they would never tell anyone about what happened with Nicholas. If one person got to know, there was always the risk that the truth would reach Molly and that was something that they could never allow.
Ellie has a good marriage with Andrew, but then nothing good lasts. Andrew starts showing signs of dementia, and his health starts declining. Ellie’s relationship with her daughter Juliet is not a smooth one, and as she grows up, Molly doesn’t have a good rapport with her mother. It is a sad thing because the three women individually are lovely, and I just can’t understand why they rubbed each other off the wrong way. The book ends without these three women coming to an understanding. It is interesting that Juliet got on with her grandmother just like Molly got along with Ellie superbly.
Ellie discovers that she has a half-brother, a Caribbean reggae singer, Reggie, who starts a relationship with Neil. Shortly afterwards Ashley leaves Juliet to marry a woman he met in a hippie commune. Juliet is heartbroken at first, and when she is still in love with Ashley, she starts an affair with a young lawyer, Matthew, mainly to make Ashley jealous.
Molly grows up, and after university she decides to travel to Africa to teach children. She has had a series of boyfriends, and the one he goes to Africa with, Werner, is German. Molly doesn’t understand why her parents don’t like Werner, but we learn later that Werner is actually Nicholas’s half-uncle, and that is why Neil and Juliet don’t want him for Molly. However, they can’t do anything to stop them, and they get married and Molly gets pregnant. When she has her baby son, Neil and Juliet are scared that something might be wrong with him, but Stephen is a healthy boy as long as they can see.
After that, death visits this family. First, Andrew dies, and then Reggie leaves Neil to move to his native land. Neil is heartbroken and feels betrayed, but then some time later he gets a letter from Reggie’s aunt, informing him that Reggie died of Aids. Neil also realises that he has the disease, and he only tells Juliet. They still don’t want anybody to know what kind of marriage they have, so they decide to leave and stay on a remote island in Scotland. Molly wants them to come for Stephen’s birthday, and when she tells her that if they don’t come, she will go there, Juliet and Neil say that they will be there for the birthday. Yet, when Molly goes to the station, they aren’t on any of the trains that come and go. The family gets worried, and they make enquiries, but the cottage where they were staying is empty. A few days later Neil’s body is washed up on the rocks, and his death is deemed accidental. Juliet’s body is never recovered, but everybody assumes that she also died.
We learn later that Neil and Juliet planned the whole thing. Neil threw himself to die in the sea, and Juliet was supposed to raise the alarm. Yet, instead she sneaked onto a boat, and almost in trance she reached a guest house. There she ran into an old acquaintance, Phillip, an actor, who recognises her, but he doesn’t remember her name properly, calling her Julia. Then he offers her to replace the actress that has left him high and dry as she has gone to America to marry her boyfriend. So Juliet accepts, and they don’t even change the actress’s name in the billboards, so from then on she becomes Eleanor.
At home the family believe that Juliet is dead. Molly and Werner start having problems in their marriage, and then she starts an affair with Ashley. Werner finds out, and the marriage ends. So Molly starts a life on her own. So far she has been a teacher, but then she changes her career. When she is offered to be in a TV programme about film reviews, she readily accepts, and becomes a celebrity. Her life also changes as she doesn’t want a serious relationship and starts sleeping around. Then she becomes pregnant and has a baby girl, who she calls Emma.
This is the point when the story becomes quite dark. Stephen, Molly’s son, is jealous of Gemma, as his mother’s attention is all on her, and even his father is besotted with the little girl. Shortly afterwards, Juliet, who follows her daughter’s progress on television, learns that Gemma has died and the cause is cot death.
When Ellie dies, Juliet goes to the funeral, covering her hair and wearing dark glasses. The only one who she talks to is Stephen, and the boy is so unsympathetic about Ellie’s death, and he hurls an angry, scornful diatribe about love. Juliet feels that Stephen has a darker side, and we get to see it in him more and more as he grows. The boy is very intelligent, and since Molly has noticed something strange in him, she talks to one of his colleagues, Russell, who specialises in autism, but Stephen does not fit the characteristics of the autistic spectrum. Russell and Molly start a relationship and they move in together. Stephen is jealous and doesn’t want him in his house, but Molly is adamant. After all, the boy is at university.
Then Alice gets a letter, informing her that Stephen has dropped out after an incident. When she calls the university, she is told that Stephen was accused of trying to rape a girl. From that point on, Molly hardly sees her son and just gets emails from him.
The next time Stephen makes her appearance is in Juliet’s house in Wales where she has her theatrical company. He is friends with one of the young actors, and Phillip hires him when one of the actors leave. Juliet knows who she is, and Stephen, who is an intelligent boy, remembers her from Ellie’s funeral and connects the dots. Stephen tries to blackmail her, but she won’t allow it, threatening to go to the police.
Then Stephen ups and goes, and in a pub he meets a duke, Francis, who he starts a relationship with. The man is rich, and Stephen lets him spoil him. The duke has a double life with Stephen as his lover and also with his finacée. The duke marries, and when his wife gets pregnant, he breaks up with Stephen. Naturally, Stephen is angry as he is losing the comfortable way of life he has been enjoying. Then he asks Francis for one last day together, and then he calls him and drops his body into the lake. By this time we learn that Stephen is responsible for his baby sister’s death, and then he also attacked Russell on a cliff that almost cost his life.
Stephen runs away, and since he has used a fake name with the duke, he feels safe. The place he returns to is Juliet’s house and asks for a job. Juliet is not happy, but Phillip hires him. When a photofit of his appears on television, Juliet is suspicious, and when she has a look around his room, she not only finds large amounts of money but the duke’s credit cards. Juliet thinks that maybe the darkness in her grandchild is genetic because of the link between his parents. What worries Juliet is that the truth will be unfold after all, and she swears that she will not let Molly learn her secrets. Now Molly is married to Russell and they have a baby daughter, Daisy. So Juliet decides she has to do something. She tells Stephen they can go for a ride in his car, and she will drive. In the car Juliet confronts him and the masks come off. Stephen admits to killing his baby sister, attacking the girl at university, attacking Russell and killing the duke, and he is not repentant. For a second I thought that Juliet will sacrifice herself, making the car crash, and also taking her grandson’s life. She does crash the car, but Juliet doesn’t die, not does Stephen. Juliet isn’t injured, but Stephen ends up in a vegetative state, and we learn that his brain is still active, but he is unresponsive, feeling angry as he hears his grandmother’s voice. We also learn that Molly doesn’t know what happened to her son as Juliet keeps sending her emails, pretending she is Stephen, who is working in Australia. So Molly is kept safe from the secrets that started when she was conceived. It is sad that there are so many secrets in this family that kept these three women, Ellie, Juliet, and Molly, so detached from each other.
I really loved the book. It was interesting to read about these women’s lives, and how they make their lives. A very nice novel.