From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In the latest from acclaimed London novelist Coe (The Rotter's Club
), the story of two cousins' friendship is keyed to a hatred that is handed down from mother to daughter across generations, as in a Greek tragedy. Evacuated from London to her aunt and uncle's Shropshire farm, Rosamond bonds with her older cousin, Beatrix, who is emotionally abused by her mother. Beatrix grows up to abuse her daughter, Thea (in one unforgettable scene, Beatrix takes a knife and flies after Thea after Thea has ruined a blouse), with repercussions that reach the next generation. All of this is narrated in retrospect by an elderly Rosamond into a tape recorder: she is recording the family's history for Imogene, Beatrix's granddaughter, who is blind, and whom Rosamond hasn't seen in 20 years. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Rosamond's fundamental flaw and limit is her decency, a quality Coe weaves beautifully into the Shropshire and London settings—along with violence. Through relatively narrow lives on a narrow isle, Coe articulates a fierce, emotional current whose sweep catches the reader and doesn't let go until the very end. (Mar.)
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Time seems to collapse in this troubling family saga, more notable for its meditative aspects than for its relatively straightforward story of betrayal and loss. From her deathbed, the elderly Rosamond tells the story of her life and relationships through a series of photographs dating from nineteen-thirties rural England to London in the nineteen-eighties. The conceit allows Coe to explore the occult-seeming process by which the mind can summon the past into the present, but it occasionally becomes tiresome, given the plethora of symbolism-laden objects and locations that the reader must decode as different moments collide. By the end, however, a complex intergenerational mosaic of mothers and daughters emerges, suggestively demonstrating that, in the making of memory, "nothing was random, after all."
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