An accomplished English novelist makes her U.S. debut with a sharply observed, intricately plotted novel exploring wounds and attachment across class and time lines.
Linked narratives in the 1950s and 1990s connect a small group of characters dominated by women in crisis. Sylvia, a high-achieving eye surgeon, has recently moved in with Adam, an older widower, and had a child, Clio, only to discover that motherhood isn’t always accompanied by the advertised surge of unconditional love. Four decades earlier, half-deranged Ruby commits the unpardonable sin of allowing her beautiful son George to become damaged. He loses an eye, and his mother is tortured by her demons. Iris, who briefly nurses George, becomes involved with medical student Rob, who tragically changes his mind about her when differences of background and trust intervene. Years later, Rob is the married lover of Sylvia, one of his students. In a story delivered in short chapters hopping back and forth between eras and characters, doubtful, uncertain men and nervous, guilty women question themselves and each other, the earlier generation bound by harsher social and legal constraints. Ferguson’s voice is dryly perceptive as it penetrates her characters’ loneliness, confessions and fears. The interleaved structure can become tiring, and the neat, happy conclusion doesn’t seem fitting for such a dark, nonconformist book, but the author’s control and sympathetic characterizations are notable.
Intelligent storytelling, albeit too self-consciously structured.