Fans of Elizabeth Jane Howard won't be disappointed with Love All, her first novel since 1999's Falling. Set in London and the fictional village of Melton in the late 1960's, the novel's title is a bit odd, considering that none of the characters can seem to find the love they are looking for.
As usual, Howard's strongest and most likable main characters are female. There's 23-year-old Percy, who is drifting between unsatisfying romances and office jobs; her feisty aunt Floy, who is determined to keep up with her house and her garden design business despite health problems that are taking their toll; and long-suffering Mary, who steps in to raise her niece and rescue her brother Thomas from despair and alcoholism after his wife is killed in a car accident. All of these characters meet up when one of Floy's clients, the rich, brash businessman Jack, hires Floy to reconstruct the splendor of Melton, which used to be Thomas and Mary's family home.
Leave it to some more minor, but no less well-drawn characters, to romantically complicate what begins as a mere landscaping assignment: Thomas' brother-in-law Francis, whom Mary has pined after for years; Jack's alcoholic, aging secretary, who in turn pines after Jack and nearly burns down his house; Reggie, Francis' spoiled, self-important father, who expects Mary to be his maid; Thomas, who fancies himself to be in love with Percy; and Hugh, the ne'er -do-well youngest brother in a local aristocratic family, who can't seem to tell the truth or keep it in his pants. Thomas' 10-year-old daughter, Harriet, is far and away the most sensible of the lot; her caustic and grown up exchanges are some of the book's most delightful moments.
Howard’s characters are portrayed so well that you actually find yourself making a real connection with them, to the point of getting pissed off at them once in awhile. On that note, the book's sole disappointment is Mary's domestic martyrdom to Thomas and his self-absorbance. After more than 400 pages, you really want to throttle her and tell her to get on with her life, rather than catering to his every whim.