Can you imagine being with your family for an entire seven-day week? Mom, Dad, adult siblings? What if you all were confined to an isolated, crumbling, family house in rural England, a home which no one could leave or enter for a full week? Why? Because the family is in quarantine! Groceries have to be dropped at the gate, letters pushed into the letter slot....
The Birch family is at the center of this Brit-authored novel. Daughter Olivia, a medical doctor, has been in Liberia, tending to the country's underserved population under primitive circumstances. She and her work partner, Sean, were campaigning for basic sanitation standards when a deadly disease, the Haag Virus, broke out among the native people. Aid workers were send home as quickly as possible, with the admonition to stay away from everyone for an entire week in case they had been exposed to the virus. It's Christmas, and the Birches, so happy that Olivia is home for a change, agree to suffer Olivia's quarantine together as a family.
Inevitable sibling disagreements erupt, and it turns out that everyone has a secret they are trying to hide. Sister Phoebe is engaged to George, but he does not seem too eager to plan the wedding. Mom Emma has a medical diagnosis that she had not planned to reveal till after the holidays. Dad Andrew, a former war correspondant turned restaurant reviewer, has received and discarded an email from a young American man named Jesse. Jesse claims to be Andrew's secret son, the result of a one night stand. Each story is well told from a family member's distinct point of view, in a kaleidoscopic fashion. Tension further is developed as there are secret rooms in the old house where people can hide, and hide things. Olivia takes her temperature twice a day, and seems to be fine, although so much family all at once is a bit of a culture shock. Everything is turned upside down when she sees on the news that Sean, her fellow doctor and "partner" in more ways than one, has become dangerously ill with the Haag Virus.
Just in time for holiday or anytime reading, this debut explores, in a warm and bittersweet way, the dynamics of a family when close is too close!