All great themes for a modern novel. But equally enthralling, perhaps more so, when set in 1880 London. A time when coal was delivered to the door, boys rode for hours on their bicycles to deliver telegrams, and a woman's greatest fear was not being able to keep her full skirts away from a lit fireplace. A time when your wealth and social importance determined where you sat at a dinner party, the thickness of the border printed on your personal stationery indicated how far you were into your mourning period, and young men were travelling to foreign places to fight a war they didn't necessarily understand with no promise of a safe return (I'm not sure we've progressed far on that last one, unfortunately).
Such is the life of the Jarmyn family in Half the World in Winter by Maggie Joel.
I don't always love historical novels (sometimes they're a bit dour and grim), but Maggie Joel has painted such a vivid, detailed picture of Victorian life that I was swept up in it completely. There is a richness and warmth in this story that made it easy to be invested in the lives of not only the Jarmyn family members, but the servants and peripheral characters too. Everyone has to deal with secrets and tragedies, no matter their social standing, and there is empathy and understanding for every character's ill-conceived actions.
There are some charming and humorous moments amongst the drama (especially involving the cook, Mrs Varley), which do not take anything away from the more serious themes...just like real life...and the slow unravelling of exactly what transpired on one devastating day to change the Jarmyn family's lives is compelling.
Overall: Some may find it a bit long, but I think it was necessary to capture the period detail and intricacies of the time. Well written, entertaining and enjoyable, and an eye-opening education about an era of social niceties, mourning periods, and railway travel I knew nothing about.