In 2009, Julia Conley is an unemployed equity research analyst in New York City who is not sure what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She finds out she has inherited a house in England from an aunt she doesn’t know, and that her mother, who died when she was young, had grown up in the house. Intrigued, and with nothing better to do for the summer, she sets off to London, with the intention of selling the house. Her father has never talked much about her mother or her mother’s family. In London, Julia meets her mother’s family for the first time. While cleaning out her aunt’s house for sale, she finds a painting, possibly pre-Raphaelite, hidden in the back of a wardrobe. The painting, a medieval banquet scene, features Tristan, Iseult, and King Mark of Cornwall. Iseult bears a striking resemblance to a portrait of Julia’s ancestor Imogene Grantham hanging in the drawing room. With the help of attractive antiques dealer Nicholas Dorrington, Julia sets out to find out more about the painting. Slowly, the story of how the painting came to be painted and hidden in the house is revealed, along with the story of Julia’s ancestor, her loveless marriage to a rich art collector in the mid-19th century, and her tragic affair with a pre-Raphaelite painter one summer long ago.
I confess to a fondness for novels with these types of parallel story lines, where the reader sees how the past influences the present, and this one is lots of fun. Through the fictional character of painter Gavin Thorne, Willig neatly weaves the activities of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood into the story, which I found very interesting. There are no great surprises in the plot, but that did not prevent me from enjoying it!