Julia is the great-grand-niece of Edward Mackley, a polar explorer at the turn of the century, who newly married to Emily, left on an expedition and was never seen alive again after a group of men set out for the North Pole from their ship the Persephone. Emily, effectively abandoned after their honeymoon, waited all her life for him to come back.
Julia, who is married to Simon, lives in the Mackley family house and is guardian of the archive from the ill-fated expedition. Some of the ship's crew survived, and eventually Edward's body was recovered along with his personal effects. Julia is an utter romantic and loved hearing all the stories of derring-do as a child.
The action in this novel takes place over twenty-four hot and sultry hours in the life of Julia and Simon. Their marriage is in something of a rut, but we start off in bed after a now uncharacteristic moment of passion. Simon, ever precise, goes off to work leaving Julia to work in the attic cataloging the collection, but she gives herself over to re-reading the ship's log and Mackley's diary on this hot summer day. Gradually Mackley and Emily's story and that of Julia and Simon reveal themselves to us as the day goes on, and there are surprises in store ...
I liked the way the author told us Julia and Simon's story in the summer heat and the present tense, and that of Emily and Mackley's arctic adventure in the past. The fact that it all takes place over one day made me cross my fingers that it wouldn't resemble If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things
by Jon McGregor - another book that unfolds over a single day, but which I didn't get on with. However, my fears were unfounded; although this is a very contemplative novel too, it is totally focused on the two relationships within and a compulsive read. Although not a long book at just over 300 pages, it did take me longer than usual to read - I found I was often getting as dreamy as Julia and often needed to re-read paragraphs, especially during the first half. That's not a criticism, but the author's style took a bit of getting used to for me. Sackville is not yet thirty, but has managed to write a beautiful yet slightly uncomfortable novel about relationships and being taken for granted.
I couldn't finish without commenting on the lovely cover - probably the best I've seen this year. A brilliant cover for a brilliant novel. (4.5 stars)