Bad Relations by Cressida Connolly review – deaths in the family

Spanning three generations, from the battlefields of Crimea to a Cornish farm in the 1970s, this novel deftly navigates the emotional minefield of a clan at war

Two shocking bereavements, separated by more than a century, will link unsuspecting sides of a family in Cressida Connolly’s haunting and beautiful novel. Other writers might have stretched this material to saga length. Bad Relations confines its scope to fewer than 300 pages and reverberates the more for its deft compression.

It begins amid the smoke and chaos of a battlefield in the Crimea, where Captain William Gale cuts a lock of hair from the head of his dead younger brother, Algie – a memento for their parents back home in Gloucestershire. Meanwhile, William’s wife, Alice, prays for his safe return and writes him letters deploring the prosecution of the war, a radical streak destined to come between them. For in spite of her loving ways and the young son she has borne him, William grows distant from Alice on his return to England; unreasonable at first, then unreachable, he is not the gentle husband who went off to war years before. “Small gusts of fury blew through him yet not away from him.” Those gusts presage a thunderstorm that will rend and wreck.

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