A wonderful account of the British art world between World Wars I and II, seen through the eyes of three talented but (for a long time) little-known artists. Walter Cox is a labourer's son, who discovers his talent for painting as an adolescent and manages to get a scholarship to the Slade to study with the great Henry Tonks and Philip Wilson Steer (these are real people, though Gee's artists Walter, Sarah and Euan are fictional). After a misadventure in love, Walter finds happiness with Sarah Lewis, a wood engraver, and they settle together in Walter's native Kent. When Walter's best friend, the sculptor Euan Harrison comes to live near them, Walter and Sarah (now with a daughter, Meredith) feel truly blessed. However, some years later, Walter and Sarah's second child, a boy, is killed in an accident. The final third of the book shows how the family come to terms with this loss, both in their art and their lives.
This is a wonderful treat of a book, full of amazing painterly descriptions of landscape, and people, and vivid characters. Unlike one of the other reviewers, I enjoyed the developing relationship between Euan and Meredith, finding it very moving - and it was brave of Gee to avoid a traditional 'boy meets girl' romance here. The descriptions of Sarah and Walter's art, and how they are saved from their tragedy by their work, were also superb. The historical research was excellent, with only a couple of tiny slips (Dora Carrington was Mark Gertler's lover but never his wife) and Gee brought both London and Kent in the 1920s and 30s very brilliantly to life. I was glad of the happy (though by no means sentimental) ending, set after World War II, as well. An excellent book and one that should be much better known, as indeed should this very fine writer.