In June 1914 Sir Anthony Valentine, a keen mountaineer, arrives with his family in the French Alps to summer in their chalet, where fourteen-year-old foundling Mathilde starts work as one of the ‘uglies’ – village girls picked, it is believed, to ensure they don’t catch Sir Anthony’s roving eye.
For Mathilde it marks the beginning of a life-long entanglement with les anglais: strange, exciting people, far removed from the hard grind of farming and a rich source of gossip for the locals. But she soon learns that the Valentines are less carefree than they appear, with a curiously absent daughter no one talks about. It will be decades – disrupted by war, accidents and a cruel betrayal – before Mathilde discovers the key to the mystery. And in 1976, the year Sir Anthony’s great-great grandson comes to visit, she must decide whether to use it.
Vividly evoking the dramatic landscape so loved by the Valentines, this deeply involving, intriguing novel tells the story of an English family through the generations and a memorable French woman, whose lives seem worlds apart yet which become inextricably connected.