January 08, 2007 12:00 PM

by Emma Darwin



In her impressive first novel, Charles Darwin’s great-great-granddaughter intertwines the stories of British schoolgirl Anna Ware, a lonely 15-year-old in 1976, and Stephen Fairhurst, an aristocrat who is wounded in the Napoleonic Wars. Rejected by a young widow to whom he has proposed, Fairhurst returns to his drafty Suffolk manor, Kersey Hall, and enters into an epistolary relationship with the widow’s artistic sister, a spinster. About 150 years later, Anna is unceremoniously dumped at the faded manor, now inhabited by her viperous grandmother and malodorous uncle. Connections between the two narratives are awkward in the beginning (Stephen’s buttoned-up erudition contrasts sharply with Anna’s adolescent disenchantment, for example), but emerging themes of battle and romance presently smooth them. As Stephen delves into his memories of bloody conflicts and lost love, Anna slips into a relationship with a neighbor who is a war photographer. Their stories meander slightly but also fascinate in Darwin’s ambitious, alluring tale.

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