A complex and satisfying weave of 3 major topics in suspense form
In this book, published in 2002, which I have been happily re-reading, the major topics are genetically inherited diseases (a topic which also featured in The House Of Stairs) the ticking of the biological clock, and the challenges children (or the lack of them) can impose on a relationship, and, perhaps more surprisingly the Reformation of the House of Lords 1999 Act, which removed the voting rights of the majority of hereditary peers.
Martin, 4th Lord Nanther is a biographer. He is researching a biography of his great-grandfather, who was elevated to the peerage by Queen Victoria. Henry Nanther was one of Victoria’s Physicians-In-Extraordinary. He was a specialist in haemophilia and as is known, one of Victoria’s sons, Prince Leopold, was a haemophiliac.
As Martin investigates his family tree it becomes obvious that Henry was a man with a succession of secrets, and with no doubt bloody skeletons in the cupboard.
Meanwhile, Jude, Martin’s dearly loved second wife, increasingly hears the insistent rhythm of the biological clock, and, despite a history of miscarriage, is increasingly desperate to conceive. Martin already has an adult child from his first marriage, and is secretly unwilling to be a father again, though unable to express this to Jude.
And, running parallel to the story of the past (his exploration into the life of his ancestor) and of the future (the question of offspring) are the present debates of the abolition of the voting rights of hereditary peers. Martin has a traditional affection for his status, even though at times he finds the weight of history and custom stultifying. The further he enters into his great-grandfather’s past, the past of `the blood doctor’ and the mysterious history of haemophilia, how it arose in families and was transmitted, the more he finds himself thinking about bloodlines and inheritance in terms of the history of the House of Lords
If I have made this sound dry, it’s not my intention – it is a slow paced, thorough, detailed and very absorbing page turner.
If, as some reviewers have noted, some of the story of the big reveal of the First Lord Nanther’s secret life is pretty obvious to a half awake reader, that is not really the `point’ of the book. Sure there are mysteries where the feverish page turning is the reader wanting to know what happens next, but there is another kind of page turner, where the reader, understanding the forms of fiction, may absolutely be ahead of the game and know the outcome – but the point of the journey of discovery is not the reader’s – it is the journey of discovery the central character or characters need to make. And this book is really that second kind.
The reader has the benefit of hindsight and is in fact the almost omniscient one, but, as in life, what so often might be perfectly obvious to an outside observer on another person’s life is not what the person deep within their own story is aware of.
Rendall-as-Vine is thorough and absorbing in her research – she does it deeply, and imparts it lightly.
As ever, she is meticulous and fascinating in her creation of different times, and places, thoroughly believeable characters, and their motivations. As the reader sees where things are heading, they may well think `surely no one would………..’ but, in fact Martin Nanther is the one who makes sense of the why, in the closing pages of the book