THE SIN EATER by Alice Thomas Ellis


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Britisher Ellis follows Fairy Tale (1998) with another Welsh-set story, this one with less magic of the elfin variety but no diminishment of her own wondrous sort. The modern-day siblings (and their spouses) of an ancient family gather at the centuries- old family house in Llanelys, on the Welsh coast, drawn together by two events. One of these is the cricket-match, held annually on the grounds, between family and townsmen; the other is the lingering death-by-leukemia of the father of the family in an upstairs bedroom. Ellis never misses an irony, and the significances of the “Captain’s” dying (“Father had always taken good care of his blood . . . “) as the family slides into decline in the march of a hyper-egalitarian age are elevated all the more through his being largely ignored by those in the rooms downstairs as some of them lament, and others fritter away, the vestiges and traditions of the noble life. So it is that elder son and scion Henry bumbles while his beautiful (and wise) wife Rose laments the watering down of her native Irish Catholicism. Second son Michael—who will contribute indeed to the novel’s climax—quarrels with not-so-intelligent wife Angela, who flirts in turn with Edward, the alcoholic ultraconservative journalist (— —His wife tried to kill him a few months ago,— — explained Rose. —So he gets away whenever he can. Mostly here— —). There are also cook and caretaker Phyllis, her son Jack the Liar and grandson Gomer—the “downstairs” element of the house, contributors in more ways than one to the weekend’s symbolic decline. Perhaps most important of all is the adolescent Ermyn, thoughtful sister of Henry and Michael (’she knew where she was now; there was no comfort and no love, not anywhere—) who sees—well, sees everything, right to the inexorable end. Another Ellis treasure from start to end: the subtlety of James, the comedy of Spark, the penetrating—and the deep, unflinching—eye of Jane Austen.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-55921-257-8
Page count: 192pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998


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