Though half-French, Roberts offers a distinctly British fiction—stoically understated and as concerned with passion for literature as with passion for people—about two sisters competing for one man’s love.
Actually, Roberts (The Looking Glass, 2001, etc.) is writing about <\I>two sets of sisters: The story is interlaced with supposedly unmailed letters from Charlotte Brontë to her former teacher in Brussels. Charlotte’s unrequited love for M. Heger, as well as her allusions to Heger’s possible preference for her sister Emily, mirror much of the contemporary story of Catherine and Vinny. Catherine, a professor with domestic instincts along the lines of Mrs. Dalloway, secretly writes women’s erotica—soft porn—to support her weakness for comfort and finery (the brief scene in which she gets an expensive haircut is worth the price of the book for its sensual portrayal of middle-aged womanhood). Catherine has been married for many years to Adam, a respected novelist working as a carpenter, supposedly to research a novel. Their children grown, Catherine and Adam have just moved into the small house Adam’s artist father has bequeathed to them. To their housewarming come Charlie, whose gallery Adam is building, and Vinny, Catherine’s more bohemian sister, a poet whose favorite novel is Jane Eyre. Sexual undercurrents run between Adam and Vinny as well as between Catherine and Charlie. All end up in the bedroom looking at Robert’s best painting—for which Catherine was the model. It turns out that Vinny and Adam were a couple back in their 20s. At loose ends, Catherine accompanied them to Robert’s studio in France and ended up with Adam (maybe Robert too). Now it turns out that Vinny still loves Adam, who in turn is distraught over his discovery of Catherine’s secret career but even more over his own secret: writer’s block. As all sort out their feelings and memories, the plot meanders toward its purposely-inconclusive ending.
Written with care and real affection for its characters, fictional and historical.