BLOOD TIES by Jennifer Lash


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A Lawrentian richness of event and language mark this final novel by Lash (From May to October, 1981, etc.), who died in 1993. Here, as in Lash’s five other novels, is a fascination with the often painful and always complex dynamics of family life and the ways families can both damn and save people. Dominating the story is the flinty, Anglo-Irish, intensely proper Violet Farr, who lives with her odd, diffident husband Cecil in Tipperary, where she struggles to keep up appearances and maintain a ramshackle Mansion. Violet tolerates Cecil’s presence as long as he makes few demands (“the hall barometer was his only real possession”) and keeps his homosexuality hidden. Unsurprisingly, their son Lumsden, the result of an infrequent coupling, is a disappointment to Violet, both too needy and too quietly defiant. He’s sent off to boarding school, and when he returns home at age 17, it’s no great shock to Violet that he has an uncontrolled taste for alcohol and a suspiciously intense interest in younger girls. Uncovered in compromising circumstances by the local priest (himself uncomfortably aroused by what he witnesses), Lumsden is packed off for good, and for some years Violet’s rigidly plotted life follows its usual course—until it’s disrupted and then altered forever by the arrival of eight-year-old Spencer, the profoundly unhappy offspring of Lumsden and a hapless barmaid. Violet suspects the worst—Spencer is, after all, his father’s child—and when circumstances suggest his guilt in a disturbing incident, she banishes him just as she had his father. Tragedy follows, but, thanks to the efforts of some benign strangers, Spencer does gain a slender chance at happiness. Lash’s determination to plumb the wayward psychology of her characters, and her belief in the pitiless influence of will and appetite on life, turn an otherwise unsurprising story into something strange and unsettling. Some may find the language rich and at times too hectic, but the power and originality of Lash’s vision overrides the occasional rough spots.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1998
ISBN: 1-58234-003-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1998