Infatuation and secrecy maintained over decades drive—very slowly—an intense three-generational saga of women’s longings.
Briscoe’s (Sleep with Me, 2005, etc.) novel traces the exquisite torture of twin impossible love-addictions suffered by Dora Bannan and her daughter Cecilia for a pair of teachers at a progressive English school in the 1970s. Dora lives a life of hippie squalor at Wind Tor, a rambling old house on Dartmoor, with her potter husband and four children. Her job teaching music introduces her to a shocking addiction: sex with impeccably dressed, emotionally remote art teacher Elisabeth Dahl. Elisabeth’s husband James, who teaches English to clever 17-year-old Cecilia, eventually, guiltily, succumbs to the teenager’s overpowering crush. But Cecilia doesn’t tell James when she falls pregnant, and Dora never tells Cecilia what happened to the baby taken from her hours after the birth. Twenty years later, Cecilia has returned to Wind Tor with her own three children, partly to finish a book, partly to care for cancer-stricken Dora. Briscoe’s talent for dissecting miniscule shifts of emotion is mined to the limit in a story more devoted to mood and texture than pace. Haunted by the child she never knew, Cecilia reconnects with James, jeopardizing her relationship with the children around her and her partner, too. Snail’s pace switches to headlong dash as the tale enters its final, inconclusive pages.
Although implausible and suffocating, this rapture of obsession and lyrical landscape is not unimpressive.