Half of the Human Race
The title refers to women, who for much of this book are without the vote. In summer 1911, Connie Callaway, would-be surgeon and daughter of a middle class Islington family, supports the suffrage movement but since her father’s death has had to abandon dreams of a career. On holiday, she meets Will Maitland, rising county cricket star, who is attracted by her warmth and beauty yet – son of his age and class – repelled by her outspokenness and quest for independence. The novel shows their enduring attraction deepening to love over the following nine years, notwithstanding years of separation, Connie’s imprisonment in Holloway and surveillance by Special Branch thereafter, Will’s war service on the Somme and lengthy betrothal to another girl, Connie nursing in London and her perception that he is attracted more to the idea of having a wife than loving her for herself.
Despite the author’s overuse – for this reader – of adjectives and adverbs, and penchant for reporting conversations instead of showing them and for abrupt shifts of viewpoint, I warmed to the integrity of this book, its emotional insight and honesty, combining national drama and private tragedy. Here is a writer not striving for effect or genre but introducing us to characters of whom he is fond and for whom one comes to care, too: ordinary people of my grandparents’ era, defined by the extraordinary years of turmoil in which they lived. There is, arguably, a reliance on coincidence but, hey, life is like that sometimes. Connie and Will come across as real people, as do Tam the brilliant but tragic cricketer, raffish artist Dab Brigstock, and Connie’s loyal brother Fred. Until the final pages, the reader is kept wondering if Connie and Will can overcome their differences. The ending is beautifully done. A moving, satisfying read.