In a loosely threaded first novel, Scottish writer Smith luminously evokes the long, dark shadow cast by obsessions born in adolescence. Two young women, Amy Scone and Ash McCarthy, meet as teenagers when Amy's British family spends a summer vacation in Scotland next door to Ash. Eventually, the two will meet up again in Cambridge, where Amy has become a distinguished scholar; but as the story begins, the girls have been separated for many years. How that happened—and when, and why—is never made clear except through scattered hints here and there. At the start, Amy, caretaker for a seaside camping ground in Scotland, is living with eight-year-old Kate in a decrepit caravan. Kate, a clever child whose parentage is suggested but never established, has been put to work deciphering letters and whatnot for Amy, who is herself (unaccountably) no longer able to read and suffers from inexplicable fugue states. Later, just as inexplicably, Amy gradually finds her ability to read returning. She visits her wealthy and accomplished English parents for the first time in years; borrows money to take a trip with Kate to Italy; and, once settled back in Scotland, begins reinventing her life, with her old demons, so it would seem, safely banished. Meanwhile, the diary of 26-year-old Ash, a famous actress, at home in Scotland before heading to the US, is a long narrative riff on her compulsive love for Amy, which has never altered despite various affairs with other women. Trying to make sense of herself, her family, and her never-ending Amy-philia, Ash comes up with unsatisfying similes suggesting, for instance, with a flossy patness, that whatever happens it is always like something else—only, Amy's heart, as she once heard it, was really not like anything else. Lyrical but elliptical writing that ultimately bleeds the pain and passion out.
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