This engrossing, haunting novel is told from the point of view of Beatrice, a young English woman who is a successful commercial art designer in New York, recently engaged to Tod. At the start of the novel, Beatrice is in her sister’s London flat, looking out of the window at the hordes of media clamouring for a quote or interview. Tess, Beatrice’s younger sister, has disappeared. We deduce that the circumstances are dramatic and awful; soon, via Beatrice’s thoughts, we come to understand what has happened.
It is hard to write a review of this novel, because a bare plot description removes the many subtleties of the story of Tess’s life (gradually uncovered by her sister in the days after Beatrice’s precipitous arrival in the UK). Suffice to say that Beatrice decides to find out for herself what happened, dismissive of the official explanation which is universally accepted.
This novel is a very powerful, and convincing, account of a relationship between sisters as well as of grief and its after-effects. It is mostly told in the form of an internal letter from one sister to the other, which adds a beautiful element. There’s also a very moving subplot about the redemption of another relationship – that of a mother and her daughter. The way in which one daughter gradually realises the truth about her childhood perceptions is quite marvellous.
I really loved this book, and would urge anyone to read it. I was lucky enough to start it on a day when I’d booked a holiday from work, as I spent quite literally all day reading it from page 1 first thing in the morning, to the last page in the mid-afternoon. The crime plot is not as good as the rest of the book – the identity of the perpetrator is too obvious; the much-discussed "twist" at the end not a proper twist; and unfortunately the area of clinical research is completely misunderstood (though the author does a good job on describing the science of a single-gene defect). The details of hospital practice and treatment of visitors are also somewhat inconsistent with what I know of reality.
The power of this novel is in its depiction of the relationships of a mother and two daughters, and the inner lives of the girls. I loved it, and am glad that the novel is enjoying such success as a result of being one of the Richard and Judy book club selections this year.