There is a story that Donald Ogden Stewart, one of the Algonquin set, visited London in the mid-Thirties, and had an urge to learn what Communism was. As one does, he asked the doorman at Claridge’s to recommend a book. He read it diligently on board ship. By the time he reached New York he was converted. He rushed his wife straight from their hotel to a meeting in Union Square. Only one problem – her outfit. ‘It was a mink cape,’ she recalled, ‘with brown satin lining.’ At his suggestion, she turned it inside out.
Linda Grant’s heroine, Sybil, is a soul mate to that lady. She is not just a fur owner but the daughter of a furrier, carefully brought up in prewar Liverpool, the indulged pet of a Jewish father and a mother she takes to be Dutch. To her mother, the past is a blank slate. Only the present matters – indeed, only the ephemeral: the hang of a hem, the shade of a lipstick. Father is similarly devoted to surfaces: he knows the quality of a pelt from the merest touch. But he tells Sybil one interesting thing. She is an animal, he says; her task