Lonely souls, notably mothers and children in a diverse community, are scrutinized by a noted young British writer.
After her U.K. debut, An Equal Stillness (2009), which won the Orange Award for New Writers, Kay’s first U.S. publication is another rich character study, this time connecting a span of individuals via two events at the Church of the Sacred Heart in south London. Devout but mentally unbalanced Mary-Margaret O’Reilly, a volunteer at the church, is cleaning a crucifix in a side chapel when she sees Jesus’ eyes open and blood seep from his wounds. Her fall from the altar lands her in the hospital, where an immigrant nurse hears her story and spreads the word. Other volunteers include Stella Morrison, the quietly dissatisfied wife of an ambitious politician; and Mrs. Armitage, whose son is fighting in Afghanistan. Then there’s Stella’s youngest son, Mary-Margaret’s mother and the church’s stand-in priest, all of them included in Kay’s gentle but searchingly empathetic consideration. This fills many pages of her short, Barbara Pym–flavored tragedy and generates a sense of limbo between the two turning points, but the quality of the prose, the emotional resonance and restrained mystery will satisfy readers unperturbed by limited plot development.
Poignancy, lyricism and elegant spiritual debate characterize this impressive if slender novel.