The Judds, formerly of London N1, now scattered, are about to be thrown together again by the eldest child Juliet's release from prison in New York. The family is devastated by Juliet's conviction for art theft. The nature of this theft and the reasons for it plague all the protagonists.
For Charles, the father, it is a challenge to his sense of rightness and proof of the disintegration of society. For his wife Daphne, it is a source of resentment and puzzlement. Brother Charlie and sister Sophie are less worried by the morality of the theft than by the dissolution of the certainties of family. For Juliet herself is bitter and wounded at being the scapegoat for a victimless crime. And she feels guilty for the pain she has caused.
A powerful elegy to the idiocies and intimacies of family love, this is the captivating story of an apparently ordinary English family caught up in uncontrollable events, united again, as much by apprehension as celebration on the return of the prodigal daughter
Cartwright's hilarious, despairing, rapier-sharp third book (Leading the Cheers) delivers a great deal of the absent titular emotion. The five members of the Judd family, reeling from a series of personal and professional blows, have each retreated into a private world. But the impending release of eldest daughter Juliet, an art historian incarcerated in an upstate New York prison for helping to sell stolen Tiffany windows, sets the plot and the family in motion. As Juliet once the apple of her parents' eye but now the family's black sheep drives to the city with brother Charlie, her father mulls his own professional disgrace, her mother looks to home cooking as a salve, sister Sophie continues to wean herself off drugs (and a married man) and Charlie, the rock of the family, has doubts about his impending marriage to a South American socialite. Each sees their efforts as "the secretion of human folly," but the novel retains a measure of hope for the very thing it despairs of: family. Happiness may be too much to ask for, but its chase, Cartwright suggests, can be at the best of times a family pursuit.