At an all-women Cambridge college, a centuries-old tradition of female heads of house has been broken by the appointment of a man, James Rycarte. The sisters of the college fellowship are understandably put out and what follows is a chirpy tale of college life; the fight for funding, the struggle against a student rent strike, intrigues involving dodgy donations to the college coffers and various attempts to oust the male interloper.
It's a satisfying, plot-driven story that bubbles along entertainingly, but the power of this novel lies in the portrait of Dr Martha Pearce, the college's senior tutor.
Her sense of self, her career aspirations and her role as wife and mother are all vibrantly painted and it is the passages that describe her anguish about her home life - her daughter's depression in particular and the heartbreaking efforts she makes to keep their fragile relationship intact, that really make this novel breathe.
Causes Rosy Thornton Supports