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Monday, 14 June 2010
by Susan Hill
This is short – 150 pages – and if it hadn’t been by a novelist I trust completely, I’d have been much less willing to pay the cover price of £6.99. But you can’t, in my opinion, get much better than Susan Hill.
The deceptively simple story seems initially to be the recent history of a family on a North Country farm. We see it mostly through the eyes of Mary, the eldest daughter who ended up staying at home, eventually looking after her aged mother, even though at one stage she seemed the most likely to leave for good when she went to university in London.
The book starts with her mother dying, and everything is then seen in retrospect, skilfully interspersed with the present, gradually giving away more and more of what has changed over the years, in such a way that we pick up significant details almost without realising it.
One of the things that stands out is that Mary and her brother and sister don’t want to inform their other brother, Frank, of their mother’s death, because of what he has done to them all. It turns out that Frank has written a bestselling book about his childhood, which has lost the family all their friends and their reputation.
There are so many layers to this, even though the style is deceptively simple. How you feel about some of the issues could to a large extent depend on your own life experiences, and even changing attitudes over the years. The only part I felt unsure about was the ending, but that’s down to personal taste and is deliberate on the author’s part.
Even though it seems a simple enough tale, there’s too much depth, too many undercurrents, to be gleaned from one reading, so I’ll be reading it again. Given that, it’s probably just as well the novel is relatively short, after all.
Reviewed by Rebecca Holmes