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4.0 out of 5 stars
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Edmund and Anne Cornhill, a childless couple approaching middle-age, have been married for ten years and live happily together in a wonderful house on the river at Henley. Edmund commutes into the city where he works at an upmarket estate agency; Anne stays home, spending her time working in their beautiful garden, sewing petit point covers for the chairs, and driving off in her little MG with her wicker baskets to shop for food, which she then lovingly makes into delicious meals for Edmund to come home to. They are both exceedingly considerate of one another's feelings and even their rare disagreements are conducted with as much good grace as possible. When Edmund receives a phone call from his ex-stepmother, Clara (six times married and terribly well-off) asking him to take her twenty-two-year-old daughter, Arabella, under his wing for short time whilst she recuperates from an unspecified ailment, Edmund, good-mannered as always, agrees to have Arabella to stay, even though he has never met his step-sister. And so the beautiful, amoral, 'Botticelli-like' Arabella arrives at the Cornhills' home (where they soon discover the 'unspecified ailment' that she needs to recover from is actually a termination of an unwanted pregnancy) and in her own devastatingly charming way, Arabella causes all sorts of difficulties for Edmund and Anne, but maybe not quite in the way we might have initially thought. Alongside the main story, in a very secondary tale, we read about Henry, an impoverished actor who, infatuated with Arabella, leaves his wife, Janet, and their two small children, and whose selfish actions cause misery and tragedy for all involved. And is Arabella, after causing strife for more than one couple in a period of just a few weeks, any the happier, or the wiser? Or is she destined to be the eternal cuckoo in the nest or the 'odd girl out'?

Elizabeth Jane Howard, who always writes with perception and elegance, describes the Cornhills' marriage with a keen insight enabling the reader to observe how their partnership works and, also, where it doesn't. It is interesting to read how Edmund always brings Anne her breakfast on a tray, imagining that she wants to remain in bed chatting to him whilst he prepares for work when, in fact, Anne actually prefers not to waste the best time of the day in bed, but cannot tell Edmund in case she appears ungrateful. And then there is Anne, who spends her time shopping, preparing and cooking delicious and sometimes unnecessarily elaborate meals for Edmund, who when she is alone, would rather garden until it is nearly dark and then eat boiled eggs at the kitchen table with a novel propped up against a loaf of bread. At the beginning of the book, we learn how seemingly contented the pair are in their marriage - but is this marriage really as contented and secure as we initially think when Arabella so easily disrupts it? This novel, first published in 1972, is beautifully written and is full of lovely descriptions of the Cornhills' home and their lifestyle - I could almost taste the salmon trout, the dressed crab, the fresh raspberries and the chilled Sancerre - making parts of this novel a real pleasure to read. Elizabeth Jane Howard also cleverly and interestingly contrasts the Cornhills' and Arabella's privileged way of life against the poverty-stricken existence of the depressed and increasingly desperate Janet, making this novel both an enjoyable and entertaining, yet very poignant read.

4.5 Stars.
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on 8 July 2000
I started this book in a really jaded mood as I had given up about six previous novels in a row as I couldn't get into any of them. If I havn't got a book on the go I'm a real grump to live with! So it was with some relief(especially for my family)that I picked this one up.I've been a great fan of EJH's since I read about the Cazalets and since then I have found no one to better her writing.This was a lovely book,once again full of delightful descriptions about where people live and the food thet eat.When you finish any of her books you always miss the characters because she makes them seem so real.Anyway needless to say that when I finished this book.I no longer felt jaded and often look back fondly at it.
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on 2 June 2015
When I managed to ignore all the spelling mistakes in this Kindle version I did enjoy the book. Surely it isn't acceptable to have all these errors. It became quite a pastime bookmarking all the errors. WHY IS IT BEING SOLD LIKE THIS?
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on 25 February 2015
The more of Elizabeth Jane Howard's books that I read, the more I like her! I read this in a few days, and enjoyed the way she builds character so that you very soon feel you know these people. However, you don't - and the twists in the plot throw constant surprises. Maybe you don't know people who behave like this - I don't - but it doesn't stop you wanting to find out how they resolve a situation that becomes increasingly fraught.
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on 5 October 2004
Great story, intelligently written. Great script, more please.
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on 27 June 2014
This is a beautifully written observation of relationships. Very poignant and bitter sweet. I recommend this book and any others by same author.
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on 25 June 2014
A good read but not quite as good as the Cazalet books. Well written though and interesting characters and storyline.
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on 23 May 2012
This book in any other format is as outstanding as any other Elizabeth Jane Howard. However, this Kindle edition is totally spoilt by frequent typing errors and other wording mistakes presumably made by predictive text. A shame. Ms Howard deserves better
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on 8 April 2013
This is the story of a childless couple (Anne and Edmund) who have been married for 10 years living comfortable & self satisfied
lives in a charming house on the river near somewhere near Henley on Thames. They are financially secure, Edmund being the the junior partner in an upmarket London estate agency.

Their lives are disturbed when Cara, Edmund's much married stepmother, telephones him from the South of France asking if he and Anne could look after her 22-year daughter Arabella for a time while she, her mother, on holiday with her latest husband, sorts out one or two marital prospects for her daughter. They accept her but inevitably a brief sexual relationship between Edmund and Arabella in their first week fouls things up.

Hilary Mantel enlarges on this plot (and the minor characters) in a concisely written introduction.

As the title suggest it is Arabella who eventually loses out. Literaturewise it is a beautiful piece of work, but I couldn't warm to it.
I prefer to read about real grief in the quality press.
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on 25 May 2013
I appreciate the writer, but this novel now seems very 'dated', with some old-fashioned morals and social standards. I didn't believe the protagonist one bit! (ie she undergoes an abortion and within 72 hours is sleeping with her married host). Compared to Howard's "Falling", where she has produced a novel par excellence, (albeit more recently), this one is definitely, 'of its' time'. Read it to compare how the writer has improved in later years. Considered alongside novelist, Elizabeth Taylor, whose books somehow stand the test of time and relate to the same issues of social class and moral dilemmas, this book seems the "Odd One Out" and disappoints.
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