The material is excellent: Philippa was adopted as a child. She has now turned 18 and can claim her original birth certificate - and seek out her natural mother. Philippa has grown up in the comfortable home of a celebrated academic, she is breezing through her A levels with distinction, a place at Oxford awaits her. All is secure. Until the birth certificate arrives and she makes a shocking discovery whose consequences provide the rest of the story.
Good stuff. You really feel for such a heroine, don't you? Well no, not this heroine, that's the trouble. In order to maximize the impact of the forthcoming revelations, the author has drawn Philippa as a cold and frighteningly superior young woman. And unfortunately she has succeeded in this only too well. Philippa is simply insufferable, and however much fortune rocks her stable surroundings she never loses that cold glitter of intellectual disdain. The other major character is Maurice, her adoptive father the academic, and he isn't much better either. When his first wife died Maurice married Hilda who, to please him, has become a fabulous cook, hostess and homemaker. But poor Hilda is uneducated and deplorably lower middle-class, so both Maurice & Philippa treat her with a kind of well-bred contempt. "We both wish we could love Hilda" Maurice says. Well yes, so did I, Maurice. And perhaps that is all it would have taken to redeem this book: a little less sneering and a tad more affection. A touch of ordinary, unexceptional, uncelebrated, non-class-conscious human feeling.