Even for the very rich and sheltered, life can be difficult. In this latest from McLeay (Passage Home, S. & S., 1990), Clio Oliver is the daughter of one of the heirs-to-be of the Oliver shipping line, based in London and Shanghai. Her story begins in 1916 in Shanghai, where Clio is pampered by her Chinese amah. In 1923 Grandfather Oliver dies, and the younger Olivers leave to help run the company. Clio is sent to a traditional English boarding school, which she loathes. Rich girl that she is, she travels, falls in love, marries, and then returns to her beloved Shanghai. Clio and husband Ewan live the high life of preWorld War II China before the Japanese invasion and the Communists takeover change things forever. Ewan and Clio return to England one step ahead of war, hoping to make their marriage work. This tale of one woman's life as it was influenced by two opposite cultures in the not-too-distant past is interesting reading. Recommended for pop fiction collections.Dawn L. Anderson, North Richland Hills P.L., Tex.
The metamorphosis of Shanghai from a city of subtle mystery and exotic customs to a world almost annihilated by Japan is the dramatic backdrop for this riveting novel, originally published in the United Kingdom in 1995. Clio Oliver, born in Shanghai during the early part of the twentieth century, spends her formative childhood years in a realm of privilege and noblesse oblige as her father tends to one of the family's shipping divisions. The death of her grandfather prompts a return to her father's native England, and Clio tries to adapt to Western culture during her adolescence. She learns to suppress facets of her personality to fit the milieu of her relatives and peers. On returning to Shanghai as a married woman and attempting to reconcile the peaceful memories of her youth, she finds the country in turmoil under the threat of Japan, and the safe haven of her childhood on the brink of destruction.
A sweeping novel, set in Shanghai and elsewhere, of the high life between the wars in which a rich young Englishwoman torn by loyalties to different cultures, and oppressed by a stifling marriage, finds true love at last.
Aging Clio Oliver, McLeay's (Passage Home, 1990, etc.) latest protagonist, starts writing her life story on a visit to Shanghai, the city where she was born in 1910. It begins with her family's return to England in 1923. There to attend grandfather Matthew's funeral, Clio recalls seeing a woman and her young son stand apart from the Oliver family at the ceremony. The woman's presence seemed to disturb Clio's father and Uncle Kit, who have just inherited the Oliver shipping empire. Clio, soon sent to boarding school, misses "the enchanted security" of her Shanghai house and garden. She fondly recalls her unusual but surprisingly happy childhood there: the loving Chinese governess who brought her up after her mother died; her father's concubines; and the sensual dancing lessons given her by two young Russian exiles, Igor and Nina. Despite the family's immense wealth, English life seems drab, and, though Clio is soon caught up in the rituals of the upper class, she is never really happy. The young boy at the funeral turns out to be Stephen Morgan, whose mother, Catherine Oliver, had been ostracized by the family for marrying a sailor; Stephen is eventually, reluctantly, brought into the family business. Clio travels, parties, and makes a suitable but increasingly unsatisfying marriage. Then her marriage takes her briefly back to Shanghai, now under Japanese assault and much changed. But wherever she goesShanghai, the Scottish Highlands during the war yearsStephen, not only a brilliant businessman but a war hero, is somehow always there to rescue her from bombs and betrayals.
One of those beguilingly detailed period novels too intelligent to be froth and too unpretentious to do more than tell an absorbing story with panache and conviction.