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Published in 1975 by Collins (U.K.) but never before in the US, this is Clarke (This Downhill Path, etc.) at her most psychoanalytic--as a young orphan in between-the-wars England digs, through memory and restless questioning, for the truth about her dead parents and her repressed childhood traumas. Bright little Ruth Baines has been raised, for as long as she can remember, by dear Uncle Matthew (a gardener at the local girls' school, St. Margaret's) and decent Aunt Bessie; she has only a dim recollection of her mysteriously long-lost ""mummy""--and a recurring nightmare featuring a grinning red face. But, after overhearing a disturbing conversation, Ruth realizes that secrets are being kept from her: she runs away, landing at St. Margaret's, under the calm, strong wing of headmistress Miss Murry. And Miss Murry tells Ruth the sad ""truth"": that Ruth's unwed mother (a St. Margaret's alumna) shot and killed Ruth's father (a cad) in an insane rage back around 1918; that tot Ruth was herself a witness to the crime; and that her mother went to a prison-madhouse, where she subsequently died. But has Ruth been told the whole truth? She doesn't think so--even though Miss Murry, who takes Ruth in and treats her as a daughter, couldn't be more caring and well-intentioned. ""She had left something out, and this something was the crux of the whole mystery of my being."" Furthermore, by the time Ruth is 18, an odd, unacknowledged love-triangle seems to have formed--involving Ruth, the 50-ish Miss Murry, and 35-ish Professor Nick West. So there's escalating tension in the household, with Ruth (afraid that she may be mad as well as illegitimate) in a feverish state, suspecting Miss Murry of evil doings. And her psyche will remain fraught until a familiar twist ushers in a cathartic confrontation between Ruth and her nightmare-vision. Lean, low-key Freudian gothic, more Marnie than Rebecca: not completely convincing, a bit soupy at the close, but modestly absorbing and occasionally touching.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Richardson, Steirman & Black--dist. by Lyle Stuart