Gorgeously wrought offering by English novelist Beauman (Rebecca’s Tale, 2001, etc.) traces the sad, sinister fates of three weird sisters living in a medieval abbey.
Adolescent Maisie narrates the book’s first quarter, keenly observing the maturing of her beautiful older sisters, Finn and Julia, and their admirers over the decisive summer of 1967. The girls inhabit a 13th-century convent in Suffolk with their kindly grandfather and rather distracted widowed mother. Dropping by that summer are Lucas Feld, a transient young painter executing a portrait of the sisters, and Dan Nunn, the household factotum’s son up from Cambridge. Dan is in love with both Finn and Julia; Lucas spends a lot of time sketching boylike Maisie, who casually communes with the abbey’s dead spirits. Maisie, it’s soon revealed, is a bit off, a condition not improved when she is sexually molested by her aristocratic cousin Edmund during a visit to the family’s ancestral seat at Elde. Did this trauma lead Maisie to her terrible fall from the abbey’s tower? Was it an attempted suicide? The now-adult survivors of that summer attempt to address those questions 22 years later in the narrative’s concluding portions. Most of the first-person musing is done by Dan, a filmmaker burned out from travel and drugs. He’s prompted to revisit the past by the death of his father and the discovery that Lucas, now a renowned painter, is having a retrospective that will include his painting of the sisters. The present is hardly more cheerful than Dan’s wrenching memories.
A masterly rendering of fragile states of consciousness.