When Frances Thorpe stops to help a woman whose car has overturned in a ditch, she never expects that the final moments of Alice (Alys), trapped inside the car, will give Frances an opportunity to improve her life. At first, reluctant to meet the family of the dead woman, she changes her mind when she discovers that the widower is a famous British writer. Frances’s motivation for adding five words to Alys Kyte’s dying statement might have been to console the family, at first, but the small lie is the beginning of a series of ambitious actions that lead to her insinuating herself into the family.
The story moves slowly as Lane carefully compares the privileged life of the Kytes – Lawrence, handsome and famous writer; Polly, spoiled rich daughter; Teddy, the perceptive son – to that of Frances, a working girl, a copy editor in the book section of a newspaper. The suspense builds slowly as Frances emerges from her average middle-class life into someone who has connections. As she morphs from the obscure heroine into a convenient foil, Frances becomes confidante to Polly and a frequent visitor to the Kyte’s country estate. Lane’s slow reveal of her characters keeps you wondering if the manipulation is intended or a by-product of their emerging relationships.
In this slow-moving thoughtful introspective of intentions, small deceits, and yearning for what others have, Lane offers a look into the lives of two British classes. Not the upstairs/downstairs of Downton Abby, but the new modern rich (in this case, a successful author) and the working class aspirant who dreams of being Cinderella, jumping into the world of wealth and privilege. The story’s outcome was always in limbo, and not until the very end does Lane reveal Frances’s fate – at once, surprising but expected; you may have to recalculate your assessment of Frances.
Like other short but powerful British novels, this one will stay with you, and leaves so much to discuss.