by Josephine Hart ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1998
The author of Damage (1991), Sin (1992), and Oblivion (1995) is back again with her most expansively titled, yet ungenerously plotted, novel of passionate obsession. Every moment of Bethesda Barnet's life has seemed foreordained ever since the death of her father, an art teacher, left her and her invalid mother still in possession of rooms at his old school at the insistence of the school's patron, Lord Edgar Grantleigh. In the fullness of time, Bethesda will assume a teaching post herself and accept the hand of Samuel Keans, the neighboring farmer. But when the sudden death of the teacher in the next apartment brings as his replacement Mathew Pearson, Bethesda, whose preoccupations have so far focused on such innocuous topics as classicism and romanticism, color versus line, finds herself in the grip of a monstrous attachment to his image. She paints his face on a mirror and gazes into her own face superimposed on it; she paints his hand on another mirror, his neck on a third, virtually exhausting the parts of his body she can ever hope to see. All the while Bethesda is festering with hatred for Mathew's pregnant wife Mary, and putting off her faithful swain's long-awaited proposal of marriage, she's obviously hurtling toward one of Hart's floridly cryptic calamities. Once the blow finally falls, Bethesda is bereft of her mother, her husband, and her object of irresistible desire--all vanished rather unsatisfactorily into thin air--and left languishing in a convent with perhaps too much leisure to reflect on her fatal vocation for art and romance, as the novel tails off into a flurry of sad apothegms. Hart's extravagantly understated prose remains peculiarly inhospitable to characters and events, which enter her story as furtive interlopers to be dealt with as summarily as possible. Its natural condition, like that of Pater or Poe, seems to be the high-sounding aphorism--""In repetition the history of an old sin achieves an almost biblical resonance"" --whose dominance turns this novel into a commonplace book.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998
Page Count: 210
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998
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