Set in 1916, Chris is wounded in France and, shell-shocked, loses his memory. Fifteen years are wiped out and he becomes again the twenty-one year old boy just graduated from university falling in love for the first time, rather than the thirty-six year old man with a wife and responsibilities which he really is. Told through the voice of his devoted cousin, this is a simple and simply-told story which yet is hugely resonent and deeply moving.
There are no literary tricks to the narration, no self-conscious flourishes: and, as readers, we are drawn close inside a detailed and intimate story, that is both emotionally-restrained and feels very true.
The three women - Kitty, the beautiful wife; Jenny, the devoted cousin; Margaret, the lower-class lover - are the focus of the book, and West dissects them and their social places with a scalpel, sharp and accurate.
The Freudian psychology which imbues the end of the story feels a little old-fashioned now, but would have been relatively fresh at the time of writing (1918-19).
Overall this is a much deeper story than appears on the simple surface: the return refers not just to the physical return of Chris, but also his return to his place in the social world of the time and the reassumption of all the responsibilities and privileges that go with that. And his reluctance and stoicism in the face of those is a sad indictment of what is meant (and means?) to be a man.