In this dark, disquieting novel, veteran British writer Forster (Isa & May, 2011, etc.) toggles back and forth in time to explore the enduring effects of guilt on a child psychologist whose own difficult youth casts an unshakeable shadow across her adult life.
Julia spends her days interviewing troubled children in her clinic, trying to tease out the truth in conflicting stories and the root causes of problematic behavior, but in fact, she understands these children more than anyone may be aware. Though she appears to others a model of maturity—a hard worker, a homeowner, a newly appointed magistrate—she carries with her the unresolved conflicts, unanswered questions, unshared secrets and unspoken confessions of her own uneasy youth. Julia has followed a path of poor choices, either unable or unwilling to turn back or change course, ever since, at age 8, she was invited to serve as a bridesmaid at the wedding of her beautiful cousin Iris. She has acted cruelly, stolen casually, lied calculatedly, refused to acknowledge kindness and concern—and her actions have taken a toll. But did Julia, as a little girl, kill Iris' baby? And, even as she helps others correct course, will she ever find the resolve to go back and correct her own? These questions underpin Forster's patchwork narrative—and in a sense weigh it down and limit its scope. The accomplished author reaches deep to explore hidden truths and raises issues about resolving past conflicts, but in contending with these topics, somewhat heavy-handedly, she doesn't cover much territory. Thin on plot, the book may be best regarded as a character study carrying lessons about facing one's past, righting one's wrongs and using one's experience to help others. That message alone may resonate with some readers.
A carefully considered character study that digs deep to explore the ways the past can shade and shape the present.