Whitbread winner Fletcher chronicles the life of an older sister who feels very, very sorry for herself.
It’s somewhat unreasonable of narrator Moira, since it’s 16-year-old Amy who’s been in a coma for four years. But Moira’s nose has been out of joint ever since Amy was born when she was 11; the very news of her mother’s pregnancy, after three traumatic miscarriages, prompts the clever, angry girl to choose a scholarship at a far-off boarding school over offers from institutions closer to her just-scraping-by family’s home in an English seaside town. The other students at Locke Hall Residential School for Girls aren’t very nice to tall, skinny, bespectacled Moira, who excels in the classroom and endures all else, resenting the anxious, loving letters from her mother and utterly refusing to engage with baby Amy on her infrequent visits home. Readers might be more inclined to sympathize if Moira weren’t already overflowing with self-pity, convinced that no one cares about her despite considerable evidence to the contrary. Indeed, it’s difficult to understand why budding artist Ray would dump Heather, nastiest of the Locke Hall bullies, to write letters from his world tour to sullen, who-could-love-me Moira. She marries him instead of going to medical school, a move the author may see as a tribute to love but which comes across as another self-inflicted injury to add to Moira’s pile of grievances. She rewards her talented, adoring husband by taking up with his brother, and it’s darkly hinted that Amy’s catastrophic fall from a huge rock is somehow related to the fact that Moira used to swim to it. Moira’s monologues at Amy’s hospital bedside are meant to demonstrate her new maturity and compassion, her growing love for Amy and Ray, but after her litany of miseries that seem almost entirely her own doing, few will care much about her alleged redemption.
Beautiful prose, particularly the evocative descriptions of landscape, isn’t enough to redeem such a sour heroine.