A couple begins to unravel after the sudden death of their 16-year-old daughter in Citkowitz’s (Ether, 2010) haunting portrait of unsparing grief.
In the year since Rachel was killed in a car accident alongside her secret boyfriend, her parents have retreated into separate worlds. Catherine, a high-powered gallerist, a tastemaker, has taken up residence at their aged country house in Kent, where once they’d planned to retire—a thought now inconceivable. Michael remains at the family home in London; there has, he reflects, always been “a remoteness that created a space between them that he never understood,” though the gulf is wider now, the initial wave of grief having worn off. Meanwhile, their teenage son, Rowan, sweet and stoic, has fled to boarding school, having made the arrangements for his escape himself. And so Catherine is alone when a mysterious young woman arrives at the house, claiming to have lived there as a child. She is reinvigorated by the girl, striking up what she believes to be the beginnings of a friendship. But the relationship soon darkens; the girl, Catherine learns, may not be who she seems. Though the novel is short, with nothing extra, it seems to encompass lifetimes: Time and space expand and contract, the present blurring seamlessly—unsettlingly—with the past. We learn about Catherine’s parents, her father’s art, her mother’s suicide; her courtship with Michael; the day of Rachel’s death. But we also see the present: the marriage and the house; Rowan becoming increasingly obsessed with climate change at school. The mystery of the girl and the novel’s murky ending are arguably the least interesting elements of the book, which is driven less by the naked plot than by the exquisite strength of Citkowitz’s writing—spare, arresting, and emotionally precise.
A thoroughly modern novel with a Gothic feel; a fully realized vision.