The Buttonmaker’s Daughter
It is May 1914, and self-made man Joshua Summer’s plan to create a magnificent Italian garden at his Sussex home Summerhayes is nearing completion. However, the building of a summerhouse and temple by the lake brings Joshua’s beloved daughter Elizabeth in contact with Aiden Kellaway, a young architect’s assistant with ambitions for his future. But Joshua has a very different vision of Elizabeth’s future and, as the threat of war grows closer, so Elizabeth finds herself torn between loyalty to her family and her burgeoning love, while the long-running family feud between her father and her uncle Henry Fitzroy escalates to dangerous levels.
I expected this book to be a typical saga/romance – a pleasant enough read but nothing to write home about. What I discovered instead was an absorbing, atmospheric novel, with nuanced characters and a plot that gradually winds tighter and tighter towards its dramatic climax. It would have been very easy to turn Elizabeth’s parents into flat stereotypes, but Allingham goes much deeper than this, showing how their very different upbringings influence what they want for Elizabeth and her delicate, sensitive brother William.
Admittedly the characters occasionally seem a little too accurate in their predictions about the long-term consequences of the war, which is still only a few days old by the end of the novel; there are slight misunderstandings about what the technical terms “in a minor key” and “outflanked” actually mean; and most historians seem to agree nowadays that the summer of 1914 was a bit of a washout rather than the golden summer of myth—but none of that matters in a work of this high quality. I’m eager now to read the sequel to this book, as well as Allingham’s earlier novels. Highly recommended.