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Veteran British writer (The Beggar Bride, 1997, etc.) limns a melodramatic but gripping tale of a woman facing her past in a sinister cottage in the English countryside. Known better for her Weldon-like satire of relations between the sexes, White tells a tale here that’s as much gothic horror story as a probing into assumptions about child abuse. Fortyish widow Georgie, a social worker, is accused by the media of not doing enough to save abused five-year-old Angela, apparently murdered by her stepfather. Overwhelmed by the feeling that perhaps she could have saved the girl, Georgie takes time off to pull herself together and fix up a derelict cottage—the cottage that belonged to her mysterious brother Stephen, who died there recently, presumably a suicide. The place is isolated, and the neighbors are unfriendly or peculiar: taciturn Mrs. Buckpit and her two oafish sons; Horace and Nancy Horsefield, who live out here because Nancy had a nervous breakdown; and surly Cramer and girlfriend Donna. As Georgie thinks back through her past, which includes a very creepy mother, and works on the cottage, nasty, disturbing things keep happening. A doll is set afire in the woodshed; Georgie senses she’s being stalked; and, as winter sets in, her dog disappears, then is mysteriously returned; her chickens are decapitated; and she sees an eye peering at her from a hole in the woodshed roof. An accident on a snowy night produces more horrors—Georgie finds a human foot hanging in her shower and has to deal with a power outage while nursing a brutally injured young man. A nearly fatal encounter with her stalker, however, brings all to a nail-biting climax, and Georgie, helped by flashbacks, understands that women can be every bit as violent as men Not the author’s best—the plot’s as creaky as an old cottage staircase—but as readable as ever.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-85542-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1999


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