A tempestuous adulterous affair is ripe for tragedy in this beautifully written novel, the emotional pain of betrayal and loss violently surging outward. Alone in Oxford, Louise stalks Nicholas, a dashingly handsome, silver-haired lecturer of English literature. Borrowing her mother's name (for reasons that will become clear later), Lydia/Louise spends her days following Nicholas with the letter he wrote almost twenty years ago buried in her pocket.
So far Louise/Lydia hasn’t crossed the line, only crying in front of Nicholas one afternoon as they sit opposite each other in a brightly lit orange-colored café. Generally directionless and stuck in emotional emptiness, Louise attends Nicholas's lectures while fervently plotting her move toward sexy, dark-haired Adam who looks at her with his insolent half-smile. Adam's presence unleashes
a strange sense of déjà vu in Louise “like a skeleton grinning from the closet.”
Louise decides to take up Adam’s offer to go clubbing rather than returning to the lost and lonely silence of her bed-sit with its memories of people, places and things that feel “so long ago.” But Adam, with his earthy mix of alcohol, cigarettes and sweat, soon becomes an unwanted distraction.
The first of Louise's many lies tumble out toward him, and she can’t stop thinking about his wicked dark eyes and his hair softly curling around his collar.
A hint of danger lurks in these carefree encounters with Adam, but there's also a faint echo of resemblance. Louise aches with churning “acid tang need for her mother.” Louise cannot always trust her memories as scenes and events from her childhood swim throughout her mind. When her landlady abruptly tells Louise to leave, she becomes desperate and turns to Adam, accepting his offer to stay so that she can get ever-closer to her dark-eyed, silver-headed arch-nemesis.
Connell’s story accelerates with passion and fire as she layers Nicholas’s distorted past actions.
In 1983, he entered the blossom of first love with Lydia Knight, which turned into game of chance as he befriended Martin, Lydia's gray-haired older husband.
The unexpected presence of Louise at Nicholas's house years later release the unpleasant memories. Louise finally senses triumph, her deceit growing ever-more significant and precious as each day passes. Nicholas's wife, the buxom, flame-haired Naomi, must fight to roll out her own version of happiness as she learns to confront the realities of her husband's past.
Connell revels in the pangs of twisted love that for years Nicholas has kept locked tightly away. Louise's righteous rage boils away while Lydia, panic-stricken and wild,
becomes the catalyst for the destruction of passion, leaving Nicholas and Louise shattered and betrayed in her wake. Connell's story is devastating,
the character of Nicholas always at its heart: so clever, dangerous and cold, an amoral mix of contempt and pride, more devoid of conscience than any man ever had a right to be.