Nine years after her divorce from Cassius Clare, Catherine re-enters his life in order to re-establish contact with her children. Her arrival causes a dramatic upheaval in the Clare family, and its implications are analysed and redefined not only in the drawing room but also in the children's nursery and the servants' quarters. At first, Flavia, Cassius's second wife and the children's scrupulously fair stepmother, has misgivings, but as a friendship develops between the two women, it is Cassius who is excluded and whose self-pity intensifies, erupting in a shocking, unexpected way.
'To my mind she was at her most remarkable in these last novels, and never did anything better than The Present and the Past.'
'In her own eccentric way, Compton-Burnett is a radical thinker, one of the rare modern heretics.'