Olivia Birch is a serious, dedicated, doctor coming home from a stint treating victims of the terrible Haag virus in Liberia. Subject to a seven day quarantine on reentry to Britain, she and her family will be holed up in her mother’s aging family estate for seven days over Christmas.
The quarantine participants include Olivia, father Andrew (one-time Lebanon war correspondent turned snarky restaurant columnist); high-born mother Emma (who discovers a cancerous lump but doesn’t want to spoil Christmas); party girl Phoebe (the sister who has just become engaged to a man nobody else cares for); and lastly Jesse – Andrew’s surprise offspring from a one night stand in Lebanon. Jesse serves as a kind of Greek Chorus looking in from the outside and moving the plot along with subconsciously deft manipulations.
Each chapter of the book covers a single day; each section within the chapter is a timestamped story told from one of the five characters perspectives during that day evolving the plot. And what a plot! Ridiculous coincidences abound but serve only to tighten the strings that stitch the players together and are therefore somehow completely believable.
The book is simultaneously serious and funny as we watch a family that has become stale and distant in its regular interactions rediscover the importance of family and what is important to each of them personally. Artfully done and genuinely fun to read!