This book is an absolute gem: it focuses on four people (three sisters, one brother) who had a big influence on early to mid-twentieth century art: Mary, Kathleen, Douglas and Lorna Garman. Even if you're not particularly interested in art, the human relationships in this book are fascinating
There were actually nine Garman siblings but Connolly is sensible enough to realise that she can't write about them all; the other five get mentioned throughout the book, which is often enough to see that the whole family was marked by independence and eccentricity, whether famous or not.
Mary and Kathleen were the two older girls, Douglas was the eldest boy and Lorna was the youngest (there were about twelve years between her and Mary, so she was still small when her two eldest sisters left). All of the Garmans were good looking. The poet Roy Campbell fell in love with Mary the moment he saw her; Kathleen caught the eye of Jacob Epstein (and held it until his death); Lorna, the most beautiful of them all, got married at sixteen (having seduced her husband when she was fourteen) and proceded to have extra-marital affairs left, right and centre ; Douglas divorced his wife and lived with Peggy Guggenheim, before marrying for a second time. All this during the 1920s/30s, when such actions were seen as dangerous, if not insane.
The various lives make fascinating reading: Mary and Roy lived a hand-to-mouth existence because of his poetry (Mary had musical talent but did not see it as her place to earn the money); Kathleen was not accepted in society because of her position as Epstein's mistress; Douglas went against his whole upbringing by becoming a Communist. However, there was a down side, and that is most obvious in the way the Garman siblings neglected their children: Mary left her two young girls to their own devices most of the time, either ignoring them completely or watching their every move; Kathleen left her children with their grandmother and occasionally visited them, but took more of a proprietary interest than a maternal one (she was considered a better aunt than a mother); Douglas cared very much for his daughter, but like his sisters, he thought the cause should come first.
Lorna, the youngest, gets a lot of page space: despite being married, she had affairs with both Laurie Lee and Lucian Freud (readers of "As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning" may be interested to know that she is the Girl mentioned in that book). The affairs read almost like romantic fiction, because she had an eye for the dramatic like all the Garmans, and could drive people literally crazy with their feelings for her.
This is a slim book, but there is a lot to read; I only wish there were more on the other Garman siblings and the Garmans' descendants. Apart from that, this is a fascinating account, with many interesting pictures that bear up the reports of the Garman family beauty.