In 1950, Coral Glynn is a young nurse who comes to aid a woman dying of cancer at remote Hart House in rural England. She meets the woman’s son, Major Hart, who is a recluse injured in the war. He asks her perfunctory questions about his mother’s health, but never visits her himself. When the old woman dies, Major Hart, who has found out that Coral has no family, asks her to marry him to assuage his loneliness. His only friend is Robin, with whom he had an ill-advised homosexual encounter in school. Robin still loves him, but the major wants a wife.
Coral has no place to go, so she accepts the major’s proposal. But she has a secret stemming from an assault at her previous place of employment. Walking in the woods near Hart House, Coral interrupts a pair of children playing a rough game called Prisoner. She orders them to stop, but they refuse. After one of the children is found dead, Coral is the first suspect because she never reported the cruel game they’d played. Major Hart sends her away on their wedding night to protect her, and they lose touch through the deviousness of another person.
This is a sparsely told story of repressed feelings, unfulfilled longing, and old grudges. Problems and stunning observations unfold slowly, and the characters remain enigmatic but intriguing. I read it in three days and wished it had been longer. Coral’s ultimate choice seems selfish and cold.