The Marsh sisters, Nellie and Vivian, are inseparable until the great flood of 1913 brings a charismatic but unreliable stranger to their isolated cottage in rural Suffolk. The events that follow have repercussions that affect not only the two sisters, but younger generations of their family as well.
Amanda Hodgkinson’s second novel is about mothers and daughters, as much as it is about sisters, and particularly about how different women in different eras and different circumstances deal with the issue of finding themselves pregnant by a man who cannot or will not marry them.
There is a lot to admire about this book, such as the lyrical descriptions of the Suffolk countryside and the clever use of parallel scenes (two floods; two scenes of near-drowning; the way the beginning and the end dovetail with each other). I rather like the fact that the reader uncovers family secrets, while the characters fail to spot the significance of what they are being told or shown, which is probably more realistic than most novels on a similar subject.
I couldn’t help feeling at times that I was being kept at a distance from the characters. There were many interesting moral dilemmas within the story, but Hodgkinson has a tendency to approach them obliquely, in brief flashbacks rather than dramatising them directly. This means that, for me at least, the scene that I assume was meant to be the grand climax of the book fell flat, and I couldn’t help imagining what, say, Ruth Rendell or Sarah Waters would have done with the same material. A pleasant read for anyone interested in 20th century history.