It’s going to be hard to describe this novel without either giving too much away or being too vague. The description on the Virago back cover focuses too much on the role of business tycoon J. G. Baron, when really he is more the catalyst of the action.
Harry Levitt is an American on his way to England for a job with J. G. Baron. He and Baron’s entourage are on shipboard along with Baron’s oldest daughter, Celia, who has been living in the States but is now separated from her husband and moving home.
J. G. is an unlikable person. He surrounds himself with yes men and is hypocritical and self-deceptive. He dislikes two of his three children and terrifies the third. Celia is the only one who doesn’t try to please him, as she dislikes him back.
When we meet Harry, he is a practiced dissembler who feels insecure about his Midwest background so has invented Californian origins. Despite a bad start with Celia, while living in England, Harry develops a close relationship with her siblings Tobias and Liz and with their friend Anthony Carey, a mediocre sculptor known to the family as Thank-God-for-Anthony. Anthony seems perfectly assured and the only person who is not afraid of J. G. The Barons consider him the epitome of probity.
Harry, as he grows to love England and feel accepted, becomes calmer and more assured. However, there is a family tragedy, and subsequent events allow Frankau to explore themes of power, truth, and dishonesty.
At first I had trouble being interested in these characters, but eventually I became involved in this story. I did find irritating the way Frankau handled the characters’ inner thoughts, just as if they were dialogue, which seemed artificial. But this is a minor criticism.
I read this book for my Classics Club list.