From Publishers Weekly
In her 12th novel, the Booker shortlisted Roberts (The Looking Glass) presents two London writer-sisters in their early 50s locked in a slow-motion love triangle. The more practical Catherine, whom Roberts makes pointedly slim, teaches part time at a local college, writes pornographic novels using an alias to supplement her income and is married to Adam, a critically well-regarded though not commercially successful novelist. Vinny, a poet, has a spotty employment record and a thicker waist, but takes literature much more seriously, and had known and loved Adam first. In a series of flashbacks, Vinny loses him to Catherine on a vacation the three take to France to visit Adam's father, Robert, a painter who has a house there. The novel progresses in an undemanding and not unpleasant free, indirect style, and readers may find themselves rooting for warmer, more tolerant and honest Vinny to become reinvolved with Adam, who has grown weary of Catherine's adept negotiations with the world. That story is intercut with a subplot that turns on Vinny's love for Charlotte and Emily Bront and includes the by now somewhat tired gambit of fictionalized letters that invert the main story; Charlotte writes to her former teacher at a Brussels boarding school, Monsieur Heger, whom she loves with a searing passion despite her marriage to a clergyman. Roberts delivers familiar midlife pathos, longing and literary frisson unpretentiously and with enough flourish to hold interest throughout.
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Parallel universes and passionate muses lie at the heart of Roberts' sumptuous story of two sets of sisters, both writers and poets, both in thrall to older men, and both tormented by unrequited desires. A professor of English specializing in the Brontes, Catherine also writes erotic fiction under an assumed name, a secret she regrettably keeps from her husband, Adam. Catherine's sister, Vinny, an erstwhile poet, haunts London's literary shrines in a drug- and alcohol-induced fugue, helplessly watching Adam, the love of her life, flounder within his marriage. Intricately woven within this tale of duplicity and regret is a presumptive discovery of amorous correspondence between Charlotte Bronte and her mentor that eerily replicates Catherine's relationship with her father-in-law, an artist with a lascivious predilection for his portrait models. Just as Michael Cunningham looked to Virginia Woolf for inspiration, so does Roberts tantalizingly blend literary history with contemporary histrionics in this sublimely emotive portrait of love and betrayal, attraction and rejection. Carol Haggas
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