This was an enjoyable read. It centred around 2 sister-in-laws - Alice Lacey and Cora Lacey. They both give birth to sons, on a chaotic night in the height of the war, in Liverpool in 1940. Alice was married to John Lacey and Cora was married to Billy Lacey. Alice's son was called Cormac and Cora's was called Maurice.
But for some reason, Cora was always jealous of Alice; Alice had indeed lived a better, more honourable life than Cora. But Cora seemed to have her hang-ups. Cora wanted John rather than Billy, and thought she'd got lumbered with second best. But then John is seriously disfigured in the war; he felt ashamed and did not see how Alice could ever still be attracted to him, with his face looking like that. She tried and tried to convince him otherwise, telling him that she still loved him, but he wouldn't/couldn't believe her. He became very jealous and possessive. She reacted by wanting to manage a hairdressers. Cora lent her some money to help her, but Alice did not realise when she signed the agreement (she was very uneducated and not very literate) that this would mean that Cora would have a share of the profits for ever more. Cora had deceived her.
Meanwhile, John ends up going off with a one-time, prostitute called Clare who had a harelip -he somehow thought they would be well-matched. She ended up having his children, and he lived a double-life. When Alice finally found out she was obviously devastated, and John moved out permanently. John then encouraged Clare to have an operation; she looked so much better after that, but then he became insecure and jealous, just as he had done with Alice. The whole thing was beginning to seem impossible. In the end, Clare walks out on him. She didn't want him doing the same thing to her that he did to Alice.
He goes back to Alice, but she won't have him. He goes to see Cora; she is delighted. She thought that she had finally hooked him; they have sex (although he was too drunk to know what he was doing). He is very down; he accidentally sets fire to the house, and dies. Cora is devastated; having finally got him, so she thought and then lost him in such a short space of time. She also at the same time confided in him that she had, kind of, murdered two of her aunts.
Cora is later in trouble and Alice offers her a cleaning job in one of her 3 hairdressing salons -yes, the business thrived and grew. Alice is always trying to do right by Cora, even though Cora always seems to want to do harm to Alice.
Alice has 4 children; in the end, the 4 children are fed-up with Cora's antics, and manage to find a way to stop Alice from having to pay all this money to Cora. One of Alice's children manage to get hold of the agreement, and tear it up in front of Cora's face.
As for Cormac and Maurice, Cormac is becoming very successful - wins scholarships and studies at Cambridge. Meanwhile, Maurice, tragically, on the other hand, ends up in prison. His mother used to beat him with a cane, and then love and cuddle him - he grew up very confused.
Cora seeing Cormac doing so well, is jealous once again. She tells him that she swapped the babies at birth, and that Cormac is actually her son, and Maurice is Alice's. Cormac is devastated. He doesn't want Cora to be his mother; he doesn't want it at all. He loves Alice, but can no longer call her 'mum'. He drops out of university; forms a music group and is on the road, making music and smoking pot etc. Then, it later seems that Cora was lying about this all along anyway.
Meanwhile, Cormac comes home after a while, with a pregnant girl. Maurice falls in love with her, and takes her from Cormac. Cormac doesn't mind; he thinks that's fair enough, as he got the better woman to bring him up. He eventually marries someone else.
Alice's children have children; the Lacey family grows. Towards the end of the book, 4 members of the family are pregnant. And in the closing pages, both Alice and Cora find some peace. Cora seems to realise that she has not treated Alice right over the years (as opposed to thinking that she was always the one that was hard done by, that kept coming out worse off), and Neil, the man that Alice loved after it went wrong with John, returns.