The crimean war

Fleshing out family history: Ancestry, by Simon Mawer, reviewed

DNA test kits may have been all the rage in recent years, but how much can they really tell us about our ancestors? Cold, hard data is, by definition, neither sentimental nor sympathetic. Or so says Simon Mawer, whose latest novel asks where, in our austere conception of the past as a graveyard of artefacts, bones, facts and figures, are the personalities of the dead? ‘Where is the flesh and blood?’ Mawer is well known for expertly pillaging the treasure chest of history to serve his fiction. His previous forays into the past, such as the second-world-war-era and Man Booker-shortlisted The Glass Room of 2009, struck an admirable balance between

Messy family matters: Bad Relations, by Cressida Connolly, reviewed

Cressida Connolly’s new novel begins with a couple of endings. It’s spring 1855, and on the battlefields of the Crimea William Gale is mourning the deaths of his brother Algernon and his friend Mr Lockwood. He writes to his wife Alice, who back home has befriended the progressive Dr Nolan, and asks her to call on Mrs Lockwood in Cheltenham. Upon returning from the war a medalled hero, William isn’t himself, and after meeting the ‘good lady’ widow and her two little girls, Molly and Kitty, he makes a rash decision that reverberates across generations. It’s hard not to play favourites with a novel divided into three fairly distinct parts,