Utterly beguiling' Joanna Trollope
Michele Roberts is the author of eleven highly-acclaimed novels as well as short stories and poetry, most recently collected in All the Selves I Was. Half-English and half-French, she lives in London and Mayenne, France.
Shortlisted for the Booker and winner of the W. H. Smith prize for the best book of 1992, Roberts's richly atmospheric novel (her first to appear here) is a mesmerizing tale of adolescent rivalry, adult deception and a secret involving betrayal and murder. In a lyrical but tersely controlled narrative, Roberts gradually reveals the events 20 years past when Therese Martin, whose parents owned the farm and spacious manor house near the village of Blemont in Normandy, withdrew into a convent after her mother's death and the impending marriage of her father and her aunt. Now Therese's cousin Leonie lives in the house with her husband, whose father's grave in the village cemetery has recently been desecrated, bringing to the surface dark events suppressed since WW II. The narrative flashes back to the cousins' youth; they spend every summer together, first in idyllic companionship, later competing in budding sensuality and religious frenzy. Leonie sees a vision of the Virgin in the woods and Therese, for her own purposes, pretends to do the same. In Roberts's deft hands, the house, the village and the countryside are palpably evoked, and the social nuances of provincial society subtly conveyed. Sensuous images of ripeness and decay underscore the portents of death that run through the narrative. Although the ending seems rushed, with the magnitude of the finally revealed secret not quite commensurate with the ominous foreshadowing, readers will nonetheless be haunted by the story. (Sept.)
'Remarkable and beautifully written' INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY 'A brave and richly imagined novel, full of thrilling set pieces. The new prestige it seems likely to earn for one of our best writers is long overdue.' GUARDIAN 'Subtle and persuasive' COSMOPOLITAN 'An intense piece of writing, in which the transfigured mundane world of recipes, parental prohibitions and almost ritualised gossip is posed against official purity and religiosity, and shown to be superior.' TLS 'The writing is English at its very best... the prose pulses with a sense of dangerous energy, only just held in check... compelling... incisive and brilliant.' INDEPENDENT 'It makes for a strong, concentrated read, deftly managed by the author, and I am nor surprised that the Booker Judges put it on their shortlist.' THE TIMES 'Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this novel deserves to win.' NEW STATESMAN AND SOCIETY 'Few will deny the artistry with which it is written, or its dark, unsettling grace.' TIME OUT 'Remarkable and beautifully written novel... her best book yet.' Hermoine Lee, INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY 'Writing of the highest order... certainly deserves to be read.' THE SPECTATOR
In this lyrical novel, cousins Therese and Leonie come together and look back on their childhood spent in a small French village just after World War II. Events of the past (the Nazi occupation, the death of Therese's mother, and the mysterious betrayal of a French resistance fighter and a family of Jews who had been hidden in Therese's house) still resonate in their lives. In response, Therese turns to religion, while Leonie devotes herself to the minutiae of an ordinary life. Despite some good writing, the book fails to engage the reader because Roberts, author of several novels and collections of poetry, cannot make up her mind whether it is about adolescent religious fervor (in which case, Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy , Harper, 1991, is much superior) or the treachery of memory. This novel was short-listed for the Booker Prize and won the W.H. Smith Prize for 1992 in Britain. Libraries with large literary fiction collections should consider.-- Nancy Pearl, Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle P . L.