We That Are Left
This is Clare Clark’s fifth novel – all have been historical tales reviewed by the HNS – and this is another engagingly narrated story. On starting the book – a very familiar setting in an English country house in 1910, with a doomed charismatic son and adoring younger sister – I did wonder just how original the plot would be. But events quickly moved on: Theo, the son and heir to the Victorian Gothic pile, Ellinghurst, is killed in France in 1915, casting his family into despair. Thereupon, the three main characters emerge out of his shadow – his younger sister Jessica, his older sister Phyllis, and Oscar, who has a godmother in the girls’ mother.
The essence of the story concerns how the three fare after the end of the war. Jessica, a rather vain and shallow creature, feels suffocated and bypassed at the family pile, where her mother turns to the fraudulent comforts offered by spiritualists to keep in touch with Theo. After inveigling to get a flat in London, Jessica discovers how hard it is for even attractive females to find suitable young men in the immediate post-war years. The studious Phyllis worked as a V.A.D. during the war and then researches ancient Egypt. Oscar, who has his own overwhelming experience of bereavement, goes to Trinity College, Cambridge to study physics and the way that new theories of the universe and the nature of time and space by thinkers such as Einstein are challenging the old empiricist natural laws.
Clark’s narrative descriptions are lovely and observations shrewd. It is an engaging story, one that makes you care very much about the characters and their motivations and destiny. The alert reader, though, will have spotted the forthcoming complication at the conclusion of the novel that makes matters very messy for the three.