About 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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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
Try something similar: The Birdcage by Eve Chase
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.