Please don't believe the other review. There is nothing "sweet" about this book. Gaskin is a skilled writer, so skilled that even when tragedy continually strikes the main protagonist, one keeps reading because the prose is so that it sucks you in, it makes you want to read to the end. Though, the ending is often ambiguous and sad.
I read this book a while ago, but it left a very strong impression in my mind not only because of Gaskin's prose and her strong female protagonist, but because it was one of the few books that have made me angry. Beginning in turn of the century England and ending in 1920s American, this is the story of Lally, the slum orpham Black Jack, an industrialist, impulsively adopts to become a sibling to his son and daughter. His son is noble, handsome a brave; his daughter, spoilt, beautiful and vain. As the years pass by, Lally grows from child to plump wallflower, in love with the boy(now man) with whom she was raised as a sister. The story turns into WWI and Lally, due to an illness as a nurse, finds herself slim and beautiful for the first time in her life, and thankfully, her "brother" finally notices her as the woman she is. They fall in love and marry, soon having a son. Lally's "sister" Violet(I think her name was) has also married and has a son, but she neglects family life in order to take advantage of the rip-roaring fun of the 1920s. Violet's selfishness causes tragedy in Lally's life as her husband is killed in a car crash due to Violet's drunkeness. Heartbroken and numb, Lally follows Violet to America, where she meets an American who is interested in her. Unable to love anyone but her late husband, Lally ignores him, wrapping her life into that of her son. But tragedy strikes once more with the death of her son(and yet Violet's son gets to live).
With this book, I officially retired from reading sagas, a genre I innocently fell into as I browsed the library. But now that I've read more than 8 with death and tragedy, I will never read one ever again. It amazes me that these types of books were so popular in the 70s and 80s(and still are to this day in England). I would recommend this to life long saga readers, but to those who feel jipped at the thought of reading books with ambiguous and near horrible endings, stay away from this book and anything like it.