Newly married Ruth Flint comes to live at Echo Hall on the Anglo-Welsh border in 1990 with her husband, Adam. His grandfather, Jack, is an ailing, bitter man, and Echo Hall itself is haunted, literally and metaphorically, by the shades of past unhappiness.
Ruth’s curiosity leads her to uncover the roots of the Flint family’s tragedies. This is a complex story, told through letters, diaries and flashbacks from various points of view.
In the 1940s, Jack’s wife, Elsie, is living with her austere parents-in-law at Echo Hall while Jack is serving with the RAF, and flashbacks reveal the carefree days before the war, when she first meets Jack, and his cousin, Daniel, a teacher.
In 1911, sisters Rachel and Leah meet Jacob Flint, the heir to Echo Hall, and events are set in motion that will make their mark over the decades.
The impact of military conflict on personal relationships is central to the story in all three time frames – the two World Wars, and the Gulf War. Ruth is an anti-war activist in the 1990s narrative, and the theme of conscientious objection is central to the earlier stories.
It is an emotional read, which did bring the odd tear to the eye and a lump to the throat and is particularly evocative in the 1940s sequences.
I noted that Jacob Flint joins the RAF in 1914 (page 201). At that date it would have been the Royal Flying Corps, which only became the RAF in 1918. Daniel, a conscientious objector, is a teacher before 1939 (p.253) and takes certain measures to avoid call-up, but teaching was a reserved occupation, and if he was over 25 he would not have been called up in any case.