In her fourth novel Tessa Hadley returns to the London-Cardiff axis of The Master Bedroom, focusing on Paul and Cora. Both their lives are for a time dominated by travel between the English and Welsh capitals, and the narrative explores the consequences on family relationships of the chance intersection of their two otherwise parallel existences.
Paul, an English writer living comfortably in the rural hinterland of Cardiff, returns from his mother's funeral to learn that his eldest daughter, a student in London, has disappeared. He tracks her down to the grim flat where, accidentally pregnant, she lives chaotically with her boyfriend, the Polish wheeler-dealer Marek and his disturbingly attractive sister.
In the second of the two narratives which form the novel, childless Cora, in the aftermath of her own mother's death, travels from London to her childhood home in Cardiff. On the train she meets Paul and they embark on a passionate affair. But her plans to build a new life for herself are disturbed not only by the end of the affair but also by the sudden disappearance of her husband, a high-ranking civil servant.
A superb stylist, Tessa Hadley writes here with all her characteristic sensitivity and psychological insight. Gradually she unveils the tensions and shifting loyalties that lie below the calm surfaces of human relationships, between friends, neighbours, husbands and wives, parents and children, between the old and new middle classes, and between incomers and the indigenous population.
'[Hadley] enters so completely into her characters' private worlds of thought and action. [Their minds are] fully occupied by this most astute and sympathetic of writers.'
'The novel's more mature virtues ... include absolute lack of predictability and scrupulous sincerity.'