The Inheritance: A Novel

Paperback | October 3, 2006

byAnnabel Dilke

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A sweeping, modern tale of love, betrayal, and decline among the British aristocracy.

At their magnificent estate, the Chandlers cling to the trappings of aristocracy in 1960s England. Beautiful eighteen-year-old Alice is marrying the heir to another fortune and her sister Eve has won a place at Oxford. But their charmed lives are not all they seem. Alice is having an affair with a handsome but disreputable lover. Her father is a philanderer whose chronic infidelity pushes his wife Felicity into the arms of another man. And Eve's academic future is cut short by an act of betrayal. Nearly forty years later, Felicity remembers that long-ago wedding day when their lives changed forever.

Wonderfully sympathetic, funny and beguiling, Annabel Dilke's The Inheritance is the story of an unusual family and very unexpected twists of fate. Intensely human and brilliantly drawn, it will shock, delight and completely seduce you.

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From the Publisher

A sweeping, modern tale of love, betrayal, and decline among the British aristocracy. At their magnificent estate, the Chandlers cling to the trappings of aristocracy in 1960s England. Beautiful eighteen-year-old Alice is marrying the heir to another fortune and her sister Eve has won a place at Oxford. But their charmed lives are no...

From the Jacket

At Edgerton, their magnificent estate, the Chandlers seem to lead a charmed life. Surrounded by servants and cushioned by great wealth, they cling fiercely to the trappings of aristocracy and privilege in England of the Fifties and Sixties. Stunningly attractive eighteen-year-old Alice is marrying the heir to another great house while ...

Annabel Dilke is a novelist, journalist, and screenwriter whose books have been shortlisted for numerous awards. The Inheritance was her first book published in the United States. She lives in South London.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8.28 × 5.22 × 0.99 inPublished:October 3, 2006Publisher:St. Martin's PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0312361513

ISBN - 13:9780312361518

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Chapter One Alice awoke early on her wedding day and, through her flimsy curtains, sensed stillness and brilliance, and knew that her mother's prayers had been answered. From the depths of the house she could hear the grumpy roar of hoovers sucking exhaustedly at already clean floors, and, outside her window, the discreet crunch of wheels over gravel as food and drink were delivered in enormous quantities. The dogs barked frantically each time, as if it were a novelty for them to see a van come down the drive. All eleven would have to be locked in the stables once guests started to appear. 'This is the last time I'll ever sleep in this room on my own,' Alice thought, and immediately pulled the quilt over her head. She loved her room. Set directly above the house's turreted porch, looking on to the long drive, it was like sleeping in the prow of a ship. It was also like being enclosed in a nest: a very cluttered one at present. After a moment she peeped out from under the quilt, as if she could scarcely believe what she was seeing. On every surface lay neatly folded piles of marvellous new clothes, layered with white tissue paper, to be packed at the last minute in her suitcases (which already contained jigsaw bases of unworn shoes). There were fresh cotton and lawn dresses for sunny days of expeditions and lunches, formal gowns for smart evenings in grand restaurants, confections of satin and lace for night. Alice was marrying well, and her trousseau reflected it. Her two outfits for today--her wedding dress and her pink going-away suit--hung, shrouded in more swags of wispy tissue, from padded hangers. 'As if they've had a chance to gather dust!' thought Alice with a nervous smile. She hadn't stood still and contemplated her life for three months. She'd lost a stone and a half and her wedding dress had had to be taken in twice. The first time she'd tried it on in the shop that was filled with dreams, she'd spilt over its bodice. In the mirror she'd seen a flushed and disbelieving self: a girl who'd lit a fuse.  'We wore ostrich feathers in our hair,' Felicity would tell her daughters, 'and trains. And, when my time came to curtsey, one of the gurkhas standing guard winked at me . . .' But by the time Alice left school at sixteen, the young monarch had done away with presentations at court, so, after her launch in virginal white at Queen Charlotte's Ball, she just went to all the parties. Though it was never spelt out for her, the idea, of course, was to find a husband. Neither parent encouraged her to have a career, whereas Eve easily got her wish to try for university. Alice was the pretty one, Eve the clever one. For them, it had always seemed as uncomplicated as that. Every young man Alice brought home was assessed as marriage material. Her father was unfailingly courteous, believing he hid his contempt for the boring ones; her mother watched her covertly, trying to divine her feelings. She never brought Marcus, but might as well have. She conveyed anguish and obsession mingled with a strange inner peace. She was more easily upset and even sweeter. Meanwhile her childhood friend Edward held her hand and listened, and waited for his moment. It was odd that nobody had anticipated he would carry off the prize of Alice, because, as heir to Mossbury Park (and a title), he was very eligible. He was amiable, too. His hair was always a little too short. He was the sort of man who arranged romantic evenings for beautiful girls, only to have them weep on his shoulder over someone else.  One evening--unhappier than she'd ever been--Alice sought out her father for guidance. 'Pa . . .' 'Yes, my turtledove?' Exclusively for her: his look of doting delight, a special name. How handsome he was, how youthful: how wonderfully different from everyone else's father. It was just before dinner and, having had his bath, Harry Chandler was sitting in his green velvet chair in his study, wavy dark-blond hair sleeked with brilliantine, wearing his favourite mole-coloured corduroy jacket and sipping an Amontillado. A log fire crackled in the grate, warming his tiger skin rug with its glassy glare and lockjaw snarl. This was where he kept his books and sporting trophies (he was an excellent horseman and tennis player), and personal heirlooms like his father's ivory paper knife and a framed note signed by Nelson. There was an exquisite arrangement of purple irises by his wife, Felicity, like a discreet signature, in a Lalique vase on a small inlaid Sheraton table by the window. He'd already removed his hated new spectacles and laid his book aside. He'd been re-reading Barchester Towers. His daughter's misery was affecting him deeply but, as usual, he shied away from addressing anything painful or difficult. For all Alice knew, he'd noticed nothing. She allowed him to pour her a glass of sherry with his usual ceremony and took the beige tapestry chair opposite. Suddenly all she wanted to do was sit in silence, basking in his company. But he was clearly waiting for her to begin. She said nervously, 'Um, it's about Edward,' and stared at him mutely, willing him to read her mind: anxious, as always, to please. 'Edward.' At first he knitted his brows, went through an elaborate charade. Which one of her legion of admirers could she possibly be referring to? 'That's the one with the chestnut quiff, is it? Or the feller who keeps clearing his throat?' 'Oh, Pa!' He gave his lazy smile that always made her want to smile too (though not today). Finally he pronounced, 'A decent enough sort of feller, on balance.' He raised his eyebrows, still amused for some reason. 'Knows his wine, too . . .' 'Decent?' 'I think so. Don't you?' Alice shrugged miserably. Was decent sufficient? Was knowledge of wine relevant? She whispered, 'He's been jolly kind.' Her father wasn't helping at all. 'Actually, Pa, he's asked me to marry him.' She couldn't help showing her pride. Being proposed to was a feather in one's cap, whoever had done it. 'Ah!' He looked taken by surprise, oddly thoughtful all of a sudden. Alice said, 'He wants to know--and, um, maybe it would be good to decide quickly.' Her voice rose to a squeak that threatened tears. It wasn't Edward she really wanted to talk about. Couldn't Pa guess? Another quizzical charming smile. Another ruminative sip of sherry. Then, in his teasing sentimental way, 'All turtledoves should be married.' 'Yes, but, Pa--Edward?' What she wanted him to tell her, of course, was 'Never marry without love. Never never never. Don't marry out of gratitude. Don't marry for escape. Don't even think of marrying for revenge.' She knew him as a romantic: a soft-hearted lover of beauty. She knew how greatly he cherished her (though it was never his style to spell it out). So why couldn't he, for once, stop fencing with his own feelings and everyone else's? Stop finding everything so amusing? He was the only person who could have prevented the marriage--and he did nothing.  The next day Alice astonished Edward (who professed himself the happiest man alive), and generated madness and true contentment. Totally occupied, obsessed with detail, Ma was in her element. Suddenly Alice was required to draw up lists of people she didn't think of as friends, whom she was assured would feel mortified if they weren't invited. She had to make more lists of things it was suggested she couldn't do without (like silver grape scissors), which guests would be nudged into buying. The plus was being given a licence to buy clothes--almost everything she liked, including an exquisite dress and its accessories, which she'd only ever wear once on what everyone started calling 'the great day'.  Yesterday evening--the night before her great day--the family had enjoyed a quiet supper. As usual, they'd eaten with all formality, in the dark-green dining room lit by silver candelabra, shadows alternately shrinking and looming in its corners, dull painted eyes observing them contemplatively from above. Pa had opened a special bottle and Mrs Briggs had made Alice's favourite: roast chicken with all the trimmings. There was a tacit ban on teasing, and Pa had shown his gentle, thoughtful side. Even Ma had put aside her ubiquitous pencil and notebook to concentrate on her--that admiring but cautionary look in her eyes, as always: that 'make sure you use your great gift while it lasts' expression. The parents had presented a peaceful united front. Alice had been urged to keep up her strength, made to feel more invalid than bride. 'This time tomorrow you'll be in one of the most beautiful places in the world!' said Ma. She smiled at Mrs Briggs, who was bending over her offering roast parsnips and a robust personal mix of cooking fat and sweat. 'This looks nice.' There were more hot dishes on the sideboard, but there was still plenty for the staff to do before tomorrow, and the weather had been very warm. She said kindly, 'I think we can manage on our own, Briggs.' 'You must tell Edward to order the calves' liver with onions,' Pa told Alice solemnly, as he helped himself to more bacon. 'Fegato alla Veneziana.' 'Ugh, liver!' cried ten-year-old Kathy. 'You must be sure to visit the glass factories on the islands,' said Ma, 'and bring home some of those charming coloured beads that look like sweets.' 'And shoes,' said Eve, who was bored, but trying. 'Isn't leather the thing in Italy?' 'More shoes?' commented Hugo with heavy irony and his adolescent's smirk like a rictus of pain. Trying to swallow her food and engage in the conversation, Alice concentrated on postcard views of canals and gondolas and piazzas. She thought of staying in the Danieli Hotel and being pampered. She thought of quiet days with Edward and the relaxation and companionship that would follow the one-off performance of tomorrow. She put down her knife and fork, rose from the table, murmured, 'Sorry,' and fled the room. Running up the long, dark staircase that had held so many terrors in childhood, breath catching in her throat as she clattered past family portraits, she expected to be followed. But Pa must have ordered everyone to stay where they were. He'd probably decided that, if nobody reacted, they could pretend this was nothing more than pre-wedding nerves. And Ma would go along with that, of course. Nobody would come. In her little blue and white nest, Alice flung herself face down on her bed and inhaled its smell of lavender. She thought, 'I've been over this a million times. I know what I'm doing. I'm sure we can be happy.' She repeated like a mantra, 'Edward's my friend. Pa's right--he's decent, and kind. He wants the same things out of life as I do.' So far, it had worked: like pushing shut a door and twisting a key. But, to Alice's dismay, the door had burst open. 'I never ever want to suffer again,' she told herself desperately. (What sane girl would wish for that?) But along with the torment had gone passion; and now the memory flooded back, unbearable in its intensity. Since news of her engagement had been broken in The Times, she and Edward had received nearly a thousand messages of congratulation. But there'd been silence from the one person she'd been convinced would make contact. It was only on the eve of her wedding that she understood it was permanent.  It was pretty ghastly being the elder unmarried sister of the bride. 'I'm only twenty,' thought Eve indignantly, 'and my real life has just begun. In two months I'll be back in Oxford. Oh, I can't wait! I can't wait!' And yet she must have been kindly reassured at least half a dozen times so far, 'You'll be next.' In her role as chief bridesmaid, she'd been coerced into wearing a pastel frilled dress that looked more like a nightgown, forced (by her mother) to abandon her spectacles. But she'd put her foot down about allowing Alice's hairdresser to do anything special with her hair. Scraped into an unflattering French pleat, it was her only rebellion. 'I know I look awful,' thought Eve, trying to avoid her mother's troubled gaze. 'Doesn't she understand I'll never try and compete with Alice?'  Yesterday evening, when Alice had rushed from the dining room, Eve had immediately tried to follow. But both parents stopped her. It was Ma who went to check on Alice, so that was sort of all right. Pa would have called her his turtledove and stroked her hand, but otherwise been useless. He adored pretty women, Eve thought bleakly. It made him a legendary flirt. (All show, though, she told herself with the blind confidence--and natural revulsion--of the young.) Ma was absent for only about ten minutes--roughly the time it would have taken her to climb the succession of staircases to Alice's room at the top of the house and make an immediate descent. But she'd assured them quietly and firmly as she resumed her dinner, 'Everything's fine.' 'All right?' Pa had enquired unnecessarily, not sounding particularly concerned. And then they'd started discussing the weather for tomorrow (set fair, according to the barometer, which Pa kept tapping obsessively), and Ma spoke of her intricate plans for the sheaves of waxy white lilies resting in cool buckets in the pantry. When the last table napkin had been refolded and replaced in its engraved silver ring, Eve was liberated. She'd found Alice sitting at her dressing table brushing her blond hair a hundred times, like their old nanny had taught them. ('Fifty's enough,' said Ma, 'and never use soap or water on your face or sit in the sun.') She was wearing her cotton pyjamas, probably for the last time. She looked pale but composed, and all she said, with a brittle laugh, in response to Eve's anxious enquiry, was, 'I just felt sick. It's funny, isn't it? I hate chicken, actually!' And then, 'I'm going to bed now.' That mirthless smile again. 'I'm s'posed to look my best tomorrow, aren't I?'  In the chapel striped with dusty sunlight, all Eve could make out of her sister was a blurry meringue of satin and net, the occasional glint of jewels. As the vows were exchanged, she anxiously listened for tremors or hesitations; but Alice's little voice rang out clear and certain. She must have looked all right, too, because all round her Eve could hear muted exclamations of 'angelic!' and 'exquisite!' And now she had jovial old Edward for a brother-in-law--a man who'd never been heard to say anything malicious or surprising. 'Rather her than me,' thought Eve, who had no plans whatsoever to marry, at that moment. But she and Alice were so different it scarcely seemed possible they were sisters, let alone friends. Alice saw nothing wrong in being rich and having servants. She'd no desire to pursue a career or even learn about the world. From an early age all she'd wanted--she said it again and again--was four children and a continuing life in the country with horses and dogs. It was her tragedy that, before she was safely married, she'd met Marcus, in the coffee bar in the town, where he'd stared at her from under his heavy black fringe ('Honestly, Eve, no one's ever looked at me like that before!'). Then he'd turned abruptly away. Handsome faithless Marcus had shifted her aspirations as carelessly as a child shaking a kaleidoscope. Eve had been in on it from the start. Copyright © 2004 by Annabel Dilke. All rights reserved.

Editorial Reviews

"Psychologically reminiscent of John Cheever's haunting short story 'The Swimmer.' Dilke's mastery of manipulating chronology for optimum emotional effect is breathtaking." -The Washington Post"Wonderfully picturesque . . . deliciously over-the-top." -The New York Times"[Dilke] has a wonderful eye for telling details of place and person and a brisk way of summing up a character in a line." -The Boston Globe"Marvelous novel . . . really first class. Authentic and sharp, every word rings true." -Rosamunde Pilcher, author of The Shell Seekers, September, and Coming Home"Exquisitely written . . . a lovely, absorbing story." -Elizabeth Buchan, author of Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman"[A] blend of unblinking candor and wry compassion." -James Lipton, creator and host of Inside the Actors Studio and author of An Exaltation of Larks