While this was a book that I enjoyed immensley and found to be extremely satisfying, it was also a very gritty and emotionally charged read. Anshaw is an amazingly skillful author, and in her complex layering of character and plot, a tremendous amount of inner turmoil and narrative flexibility is revealed. Ostensibly, this is a book about how a tragic event has repercussions that ripple through the lives of the three main characters, but to say that this is all the book is about would be tremendously misleading. There are many ideas and themes in this novel that are balanced throughout the story, and in what amounts to literary snapshots of the lives of Alice, Carmen and Nick, Anshaw tethers and pulls a vast amount of gravity and relevance into a tale that is at once stunning and reflective.
Though the three siblings have some similarities, I found each of them to be vastly different. All three share a modicum of obsessive behavior, and though Nick’s obsession is the most damaging, one could argue that Alice and Carmen also struggle with letting their desires and ideals contort and stretch them into uncomfortable situations. For Carmen, the drive to take a progressive stance on political and social issues is a factor that dominates her life, while Alice, an artist, is brought repeatedly to her knees in her attempts to obtain and keep the love of a woman who is beautiful but sometimes cruel. Each of the siblings are enclosed in boxes of their own longing, and while they accomplish much at times, there are significant reversals in their forward progression that enables the reader to realize that they are all somewhat damaged individuals.
The way that Anshaw manages to tell this tale is spellbinding and very original, and the writing was simply outstanding. Even the dialogue felt authentic and true. In capturing the emotional somersaulting of these characters, there was a feeling of vivid clarity and a rawness that took my breath away. Often when I was reading, I would begin to feel a sudden overload of feeling as Anshaw was leading her characters down some particularly rough and troublesome paths. Everything was exposed here in way that sometimes made me joyous and sometimes made me ache. It was a tale that was steeped in sorrow but that unexpectedly had moments of pure lightness and ease. There were no easy answers for this family, and as a reader, I grew apprehensive in the moments of ease, knowing that the struggle was surely not far behind.
For each character, the girl that the accident claimed becomes a haunting and intruding presence upon their lives. For Nick, the guilt he harbors becomes an excuse to lose himself within a debauchery that alienates himself from his higher reasoning centers as well as his family. Alice feels her presence as a strange muse who forces her to create visually stunning pieces of art that she feels she can’t share with the world. I felt Carmen was least affected, but in a quiet way she also feels as though her suffering and mistakes are part of the penance she must pay for that one awful night so long ago. In the bigger picture, the girl is just a fragmentary image, but one that is nonetheless destructive no matter how much time passes.
This was a novel that I had a hard time tearing myself away from, and its beauty was sometimes brutal and intense. I would have to say that as a work of literary fiction, this book was stunning and one that would be enjoyed by many. For readers looking for something both real and haunting, look no further. Both elegant and quietly terrifying, this is a book not to be missed.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.