TALKING TO THE DEAD by Helen Dunmore


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 The story of two sisters who may have had a hand in their brother's death, British writer Dunmore's first novel to be published in the US, combines the suspense of a Hitchcock thriller with a captivating family drama. Nina loves London, but she's relieved to be invited out to the English countryside to help her ailing older sister, Isabel, after the difficult birth of the latter's first child. A wonderful cook who prefers to fix problems rather than talk about them, Nina, an artist and photographer, longs to make herself useful in the home of the beautiful sister she's always idolized. Others have arrived to help as well: Richard, Isabel's concerned but itinerant economist husband; Susan, a young baby-sitter who's just finished her nanny course; and Isabel's best friend, Edward, a homosexual who causes his share of resentment by keeping Isabel all to himself day and night for heart-to-heart chats in her room. The more the adults rub shoulders in the lovely house near the sea, the more the fissures between them become apparent. The weaknesses of Isabel's marriage are exposed when she orders Richard to sleep downstairs and subtly encourages his sexual interest in her sister. Susan, meanwhile, seems to want to keep baby Antony for herself, and Edward all but accuses the others of selfishly looking after their own petty needs while sweet Isabel languishes. The deepest, most horrifying family secret emerges only gradually in fragmentary images, as Nina begins to recall the demise of her infant brother when Isabel was seven and Nina four. Could Isabel have murdered that baby in a fit of sibling jealousy? If so, could she murder again? Nina struggles to remember what really happened during their childhood as time runs out for Antony and as the webs of family intrigue tighten around her. Sophisticated, sensual, frightening, and remarkably visual: a first-rate debut.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-316-19741-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1997


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