Early on the novel seems unfocused, but it becomes tighter once Roxane marries – at her mother’s direction – and Meg gets tangled up with her husband. Athill’s skill is to make Meg sympathetic despite her bad behaviour and self-regard (“I am a pretty woman. I have known this for years”). She conjures up a chaotic life very unlike her own: the privileged upbringing that she described with such disarming self-awareness in her brilliant first memoir Instead of a Letter. This novel shows not so much that Athill should have written more fiction – we wouldn’t want to be without those memoirs – but that she could.