Towards the end of this enthralling book, the author declares, ‘Having spent so much time poking around in my family’s past, it now takes a great deal to surprise me.’ Indeed, the story Richard Atkinson tells of his family, starting in the 16th century and running through to the present day, though mainly concentrating on the late 17th and early 18th centuries, is full of drama, surprises, twists and turns. There are wars, sudden bankruptcies, doomed love affairs, tragic early deaths and bitter family feuds, all involving a cast of Atkinsons brilliantly brought to life thanks to nearly a decade of painstaking research.
Before this quest began, Atkinson explains, he was feeling bereft of family. His father, an only child, died when he was very young, and ‘there were no aunts or uncles to pass on Atkinson stories’. Then, in his late thirties, he discovered that he would not be able to have children. So while most of his contemporaries were busy raising families, he decided to find one of his own – in the past.