The unlikely plot is threadbare, the characters’ actions staggeringly implausible, but what most hampers the novel is its unevenness of style. As early as the opening chapter there are disconcerting mixes of narrative tense. Attempts at sketch-style humour and spiky observation puncture tragic moments. Words are spelt out in capitals for emphasis, mawkish sentiments in plangent repetitions. Apparently, French writes in longhand, then passes her notes to an assistant to type up. This reads like the verbatim result of that process rather than anything that has been edited.