cover image The Colonel's Daughter

The Colonel's Daughter

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, . . Severn, $28.95 (248pp) ISBN 978-0-7278-6290-7

Part romance and part character study, Harrod-Eagles's very British tale evokes a time chronologically close to, but startlingly different from, our own with nary an anachronism. In 1954, George West glimpses a beautiful 17-year-old girl on horseback over the Dorset Downs. Josella Grace, he learns, has background, brains and beauty—but also emotional scars from a mysterious childhood. George accepts a decade of Jo's brief and unpredictable visits without complaint while creating a stable (if otherwise abstinent) life. Jo is blithely rootless, renaming and reinventing herself—as a temporary London switchboard operator, the gofer for an Edinburgh theatrical troupe and the lover of a brooding boatbuilder—until several painful episodes reveal both her essential loneliness and her abiding love for George. Though deftly portrayed and counterpointed, neither George's passivity nor Jo's promiscuity creates much narrative drive. The cause of Jo's skittishness, when finally revealed, may also feel flat or old-fashioned to contemporary readers used to novels hinged on lurid traumas. Still, Harrod-Eagles (Julia ) captures an unusual personality and a complex period beautifully. (Jan.)