Author Lucie Whitehouse proves herself an astute observer of human behavior, finely dissecting the nuances of a love affair and long-term friendship poisoned by the envy of another, a malicious distortion that ultimately shatters under the weight of its own dysfunction.
When Lucas Heathfield inherits the property of his newly deceased uncle, Patrick, the young man is overwhelmed by his good fortune at the expense of such a devastating loss. Reaching out to his best friend of ten years, Joanna, Lucas finally admits that he has loved her since their college days.
Surprised and thrilled by the overtures of a man she has loved as well, Joanna and Lucas begin the next phase of the relationship surrounded by their other close friends who arrive at Stoneborough every weekend from London, accepting Lucasí offer to include them all as housemates. The future looks golden for Joanna and Lucas, although she worries about Lucasís deep grief and a family history he has not fully revealed.
There is, however, a serpent in this garden, Adam and Eve assaulted by the subtle envy of one of Lucasí closest friends. Of the seven diverse personalities, Danny is by far the most gregarious and extreme of the group, posturing to gain the attention of the others. When Dannyís impulsive actions lead to the loss of his job, Danny moves first into Lucasís apartment, then full time into Stoneborough, convincing Lucas to follow his own dream of becoming a writer and break free from the practicalities of life now that his fortunes have improved.
At first, Joanna thinks she can counter this slight erosion of their privacy as a couple but is increasingly aware of the enmity of another, although it is suggested that she is being irrational. At this stage, the author plucks the strings of human failings, the increasing competition between friends, an outsider inserting himself to satisfy his own emotional agenda, Joanna clearly outmatched by a man very conversant with the politics of destruction.
A series of unfortunate contretemps leave Joanna vulnerable, the Lucas she loves slipping away in bouts of excess and depression, one of the group manipulating every situation to cast Joanna as an adversary, the close-knit friendships confronted by a difficult situation. Joanna is forced to choose, her fragile hopes for resolution all but impossible given the circumstances.
Years of memories weigh upon this house in Whitehouseís deft treatment, Patrickís death only the latest in a series of sad stories that have haunted the place, awakened most recently on that first New Yearís Eve. A promising adventure among friends moves from the triangulation of three of them to a final violence that strikes a fatal blow, delivering the terrible consequences of one characterís machinations.
Whitehouse captures the emotional intensity of conflicting passions and the loss of a joyful future in prose that is relentless, a contrast of good intentions and bad on a collision course with fate.