This book was lent to me quite some time ago, and I was at first reluctant to read it. Having read the blurb on the cover, I concluded it wasn't the sort of book I would have chosen in a shop. But I finally got it started and was rewarded with a thoroughly satisfying novel. Some people may not like the way in which the narrative "jumps around" in time, from the turn of the century to the sixties/seventies, but I found the story (or, rather, the four stories) was developed at just the right tempo. By switching between her four main characters - two mothers and their "abandoned" daughters -, Forster manages to reveal just enough of the story in each chapter to keep the pace going, but not so much that you tire of the characters. The characters themselves are believable and engaging enough to be able to frustrate and disappoint me when they did not react as I would have liked (which is always a good indication of well-developed characters). This is certainly a character-driven novel, exploring the consequences of choices, the reactions of those affected by these choices, and the consequences of these reactions. It is also a telling comparison of the evolution of social attitudes in the UK to illegitimate children and single parents from the end of the 1800s to the second half of the twentieth century. First is Evie, abandoned by her mother at an early age, a girl whose worldly belongings amount to barely more than the clothes she stands in, who has no family to speak of save for some far-away cousins who give her a home but expect her to work (very hard) as a maid and general skivvy to earn her keep. Compared to this poor soul, Shona, born in the late fifties and adopted at birth by a childless couple who (especially her mother) lavish her with love and care, is far more fortunate than she appreciates.
All in all, this is an interesting book which deserves a second read. I also appreciated the twist towards the end, which fits nicely into a "tidy" ending that does not leave the reader wondering "what happens to so-and-so...?".
Probably not one for the men-folk, it's very much a woman's book!