Adam O’Riordan’s debut novel sets up an intriguing premise: it’s 1890 and Charles Wright, the bored son of a wealthy industrialist, is on vacation from Cambridge at his family’s Manchester villa. There, he seduces his sisters’ governess, Hettie. Her subsequent pregnancy and their marriage suggest we’re in store for a historical novel of Hollinghurstian proportions that traces its characters’ progress through the changing mores of late Victorian and Edwardian Britain.
Unfortunately, his immaculately written novel does not live up to this promise, and the writer O’Riordan too often finds himself imitating is instead Julian Fellowes. His characters slot into the well-established archetypes for this period: Charles grows into a neglectful husband and ambitious Tory politician; one of his