THE HALF-MOTHER by Emma Tennant


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In The Bad Sister (1978) and Wild Nights (1980), English novelist Tennant blended family relationships and mystical, whimsical fantasy--with unsatisfying, if often striking, results. Here, though the narrative is oblique in its time-shifting curlicues, the material remains relatively earthbound--as narrator Minnie unpeels the gothic/psychological layers that hide the secrets of her beloved foster-family. London-dweller Minnie, 30-ish, has returned for the first time in years to Cliff Hold on Ireland's southern coast, the house where--in the bosom of the glamorous Pierce family--she spent much of her girlhood. (Minnie's bohemian mother was an old friend of novelist Hugo Pierce and his charismatic wife Moura.) Now, however, the grand house is in a state of benumbed, pre-funeral shock: Hugo has been found dead in the nearby woods; Moura and ancient cook Lily are tensely awaiting the arrival of the Pierce sons, both of whom now live in America. And Minnie, whose near-marriage to young Philip Pierce was blocked by the late Hugo (who thought Philip deserved someone less ordinary), tries to nurse a fantasy that the funeral will bring her and Philip together again at last--until all her illusions about the Pierce family are more or less shattered. Was it really Hugo who kept Philip from marrying Minnie? No, it was her dear ""half-mother"" Moura--whose possessive jealousy has also afflicted son Gareth--the unstable husband of a rich American woman. Was Minnie truly a member of this foster-family? Well, she gets a cruel jolt when Gareth, upon arrival, asks ""Who's Minnie?"" What about noted writer Hugo, mostly English by birth but an Irishman by emphatic, left-wing choice? Was he murdered by the locals, who hated his meddling ways? And which of his children will be forced (by Moura) into the role of avenger? Family secrets in a curious, dense, Pinter-esque tapestry--but without quite enough fiesh-and-blood substance to sustain complete interest . . . or to support the concluding melodrama.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1985
Publisher: Little, Brown