Cressida Connolly’s third novel, Bad Relations, focuses on three generations of a family descended from a hero of the Battle of Alma. When it opens in 1855, the 29-year-old William Gale is cutting a lock of hair from the head of his dead brother, Algie, killed in the fighting at Sebastopol. He must write a letter to his relations filled with Victorian platitudes, concealing the fact that Lord Raglan’s troops have been living and dying in a sea of mud and dysentery. William’s friend Lockwood has already died of cholera and Gale’s promise to visit Lockwood’s widow on his return to England will have far-reaching consequences.
Much of what Connolly describes in this first section will be familiar to those who have read Cecil Woodham-Smith’s masterly account of the Charge of the Light Brigade, The Reason Why. The needless brutality of war, with its legacy of ‘bodies hanging from the branches of trees, like broken