#BookReview Bad Relations by Cressida Connolly

Bad RelationsAbout the Book

On the battlefields of the Crimea, William Gale cradles the still-warm body of his brother. William’s experience of war is to bring about a change in him that will reverberate through his family over the next two centuries.

In the 1970s, William’s English descendants invite Stephen, a distant Australian cousin, to stay in their bohemian house in Cornwall – but their golden summer entanglements will end in a dramatic fall from grace.

Half a century later, a confrontation between the surviving members of the family culminates in a terrible reckoning.

Format: Hardback (288 pages)     Publisher: Viking
Publication date: 19th May 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The first thing to say is that if you looked at the cover without reading the blurb you might be surprised to discover the first part of the book, making up nearly one third of the story, is set during the Crimean War.

I found these early chapters particularly powerful, depicting as they do the mismanagement of the campaign and the needless loss of life both as a result of the conflict and of disease. An officer in The Royal Welch Fusiliers, William Gale returns from the Crimean war to a hero’s welcome but is a changed man. Whether as a result of the trauma of his experiences or the manipulation of others, he makes a rather inexplicable decision that has longlasting repercussions for his family, especially for his wife, Alice, and their young son.

The novel than makes a massive jump in time – from the 1850s to the 1970s. I found myself rather disappointed that I wasn’t going to learn more about what happens to William and Alice (particularly Alice, who comes across as a really interesting character) or their descendants over the next century. Instead we find ourselves in the 1970s, generations later, with a story that explores family dynamics in an insightful way but which seems quite different from what went before. Having said that, I have to admit the author does a great job of matching her writing style to the different periods: the formality of the Victorian age in the first part of the book and the more vibrant and liberated spirit of the second part, all ‘sex and drugs and rock’n’roll’.

The connection between the first and second part of the book felt a little tangential. Although it features descendants of William and Alice Gale, it could really have involved any family group to which an outsider is introduced. In fact, I think the second part of the novel could have made a book in itself because the story is compelling, insightful and ultimately rather sad. To me, the third and final part of the book felt a little like a prolonged epilogue, a way of tying up some loose ends, in particular regarding an object that features in the first two parts. And I’m not sure that I would categorise the book’s conclusion as ‘a terrible reckoning’ – more some expression of home truths – and I felt it ended on quite an uplifting note.  Some of the characters who reappear in the final part of the book were a lot less likeable than when we first encountered them. For example, the beautiful Cass seems to have been transformed from coolly unattainable to rather cold and avaricous, especially when the prospect of an unexpected fortune presents itself. This contrasts with one of the new characters, Stephen’s sister Hazel, who despite being treated with a degree of snobbery comes across as entirely open and honest in her intentions.

At times Bad Relations seemed to me like three separate books. (I confess I did have the uncharitable thought that the author may have come up with three ideas, couldn’t decide which one she liked best and so put them all together.)  In a way I felt the same about Bad Relations as I did about the author’s earlier book, After the Party, that whilst I admired the skilful writing and there were bits of it I enjoyed, overall I was left with a slight sense of disappointment.

I received a digital review copy courtesy of Viking via NetGalley.

In three words: Insightful, emotional, thoughtful

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About the Author

Cressida Connolly is a reviewer and journalist, who has written for Vogue, the Telegraph, the Spectator, the Guardian and numerous other publications. Cressida’s book, The Happiest Days, won the MacMillan/PEN Award. She is the daughter of writer Cyril Connolly and lives in Worcestershire.

#BookReview The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys by Jack Jewers

The Lost Diary of Samuel PepysAbout the Book

It is the summer of 1669 and England is in dire straits.

The treasury’s coffers are bare and tensions with the powerful Dutch Republic are boiling over. And now, an investigator sent by the King to look into corruption at the Royal Navy has been brutally murdered. Loathe to leave the pleasures of London, Samuel Pepys is sent dragging his feet to Portsmouth to find the truth about what happened.

Aided by his faithful assistant, Will Hewer, he soon exposes the killer. But has he got the right person? The truth may be much more sinister. And if the mystery isn’t solved in time, then England could be thrown into a war that would have devastating consequences . . .

Format: Hardback (360 pages)       Publisher: Moonflower Publishing
Publication date: 4th August 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

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My Review

As the author explains in the Historical Notes, Samuel Pepys kept a diary for almost ten years but then suddenly stopped for reasons that can only be speculated upon. The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys imagines what events in Pepys’ life he might have recorded in his diaries had he continued. As a result we have the author to thank for giving us an insight into an unsettled period in English history following the Restoration of Charles II, a time when war with the Dutch was a real fear and whose side you had been on in the Civil War still mattered. The author cleverly incorporates elements of this into a plot that involves murder, conspiracy, treachery and political intrigue whilst at the same time being a rip-roaring adventure.

As imagined by the author, Samuel Pepys is not only a diligent diarist but an intrepid investigator, a faithful friend and someone who, in the course of the book, discovers a perhaps surprising taste for adventure. He also has a high pain threshold. If you don’t believe me, look up the word ‘lithotomy’ and then think ‘without anaesthetic’. He’s a less than faithful husband unfortunately with the result that his relationship with his wife Elisabeth is fraught, at least when the book opens.

The book immerses the reader in the London and Portsmouth of the period in all their grimy and fetid detail. The streets and alleyways are a place of danger and poverty is rife. For many it’s a miserable existence, enlivened only by attending cock-fights or watching a hanging.  Or in Pepys’ case frequenting whorehouses, which gives rise to a terrific scene at the start of the book.  There are plenty of action scenes as well depicted in a way which perhaps reflect the author’s experience as a filmmaker. Pepys ascending the stern of a ship via a rope ladder or the tactical use of a trail of gunpowder are scenes that spring to mind.

The book includes some great characters, some of whom are based on real individuals, such as Pepys’ longtime assistant Will Hewer. There are some fantastically feisty female characters, notably a sisterhood who in their resistance to a male hegemony in which ‘the law is an instrument of men’ prove themselves able to give just as good as they get, if not better. The plot has plenty of twists and turns leaving Pepys to observe ruefully at one point that ‘for every answer, another question’.

By the end of the book, it’s clear that not everything was as it seemed, things that seemed connected were perhaps not and that, for reasons of state, there are things that must be kept under wraps. With still some time to go between the end of the book and our hero’s demise in 1703, perhaps Jack Jewers may treat us to further adventures for Samuel and Will?

With its combination of intriguing plot, interesting characters and great period atmosphere, The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys will definitely appeal to fans of historical crime mysteries.

My thanks to Funmi at Midas PR and Moonflower Publishing for my digital proof copy.

In three words: Entertaining, inventive, intriguing

Try something similar: Rags of Time by Michael Ward


Jack JewersAbout the Author

Jack Jewers is a filmmaker and writer, passionate about history. His career has been spent telling stories in all media, and his body of work includes film, TV, and digital media. His films have been shown at dozens of international film festivals, including Cannes, New York, Marseille, Dublin, and London’s FrightFest, garnering multiple accolades, including an award from the Royal Television Society and a nomination for Best Short Film by BAFTA Wales. The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys is his first novel.

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