What difference does it make?
A woman lies in bed next to her husband, unable to sleep: tomorrow they must tell their children a secret, something ‘that will change all our lives’. What is it? For most of the novel we won’t know. A question is raised, the answer is delayed: suspense. In the interim, the woman, her ‘mind adrift in the dark’, imagining that she is addressing her children, reflects on the lives that will change (we do not know how) ‘for ever’. She is an art dealer, called Paula. Her husband, Mike, owns a small publishing house. They are comfortably off and live in Putney. We learn of their upbringings, their courtship, professional successes. They seem pleasant, a little dull. Nothing very gripping happens to them, but the novel zips along: we know – the narration constantly reminds us – that something awful is going to happen. The children are twins, 16, the age that Paula and Mike long ago decided on for their great announcement: ‘“After their 16th birthday”, we said, and let’s be strict about it. Perhaps you may even appreciate our discipline and tact. Let’s be strict, but let’s not be cruel. Give them a week. Let them have their birthday, their last birthday of that old life.’
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.