FAMILY SKELETONS by Henrietta Garnett


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An uneven, a trace fey, but intermittently appealing first novel about the sexual and psychic blossoming, withering and wintry reawakening of a young Irish woman, until family skeletons and her homeless destiny stand forth clean and bare. Seventeen-year-old Catherine--a girl-woman cozily in retreat with loving, only-the-tiniest-bit mad Uncle Pake (who as a spy in WW II was imprisoned in an iron cage) and an old retainer--writes little tales. In her swan fable, there emerges an unhappy ending when ""something out of Nature happened."" Much out of nature has happened, in fact, at the ancient family nest of Malabay, to which cousin Tara--truly beautiful--comes to marry Catherine. Idyllic love and sex in their marriage will end in horror, as Catherine has a last view of a drowned Tara in Malabay's lake--eyes open, hair swimming. Before too long, then, Malabay itself will disappear, blown to smithereens; and Pake, studying the biochemistry of decay, and concluding that ""perhaps dead, we glow,"" will die with Malabay. Indeed, Aunt Poppy, Pake's divorced wife and repository of secrets (incest, murder, suicide), had remarked: ""Malabay is a potent house."" The last two sections of the novel deal with Catherine's recovery, monitored and directed by Tara's friend, writer Gerald, now Catherine's lover and baffled mentor, on his island. After the fairy lights and swan songs of Malabay, Gerald's writer's blocks and Catherine's edgy floundering seem attenuated and talky, and one longs for portent-crammed, dippily dilapidated Malabay to return. Still, the author (who has some heavy family artillery of her own--she's a great-niece of Virginia Woolf) can write with a promising grace and resonance.

Pub Date: March 9th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf