But what happened when that revelation occurred? What parallels between past and present, self and art, did she find? Harry had been only vaguely aware of Alison's project. Shell-shocked by her suicide, he is only just beginning to emerge from a haze of grief and confusion when he meets Helen, a young woman who looks disturbingly like Arabella. The resemblance spurs both Harry and Helen-- who naively idolizes Alison--to try to unravel the fascination that that photograph held for her, and in doing so, to lay to rest the guilt that haunts Harry. But in traveling to Glaven, the tiny town where Alison spent her final weeks, Harry finds himself caught in a gossamer web of coincidence. As a 90- year-old villager tells Harry, Arabella had drowned herself as well. Harry's growing awareness of the tragic history Alison had discovered underscores his own attempts to understand his wife's last days.
The novel purports to be an exploration of the intersection of female self and literary self. And indeed, the questions at which it hints are in the traditional realm of feminist scholarship: What is the relationship between creativity and fertility? How do female artists reject or subvert a patriarchal system of authority? Must daughters tell their mothers' stories?
But why, then, is Harry's voice the loudest of all? Melodramatically anguished, but undeniably self-complacent, he reigns supreme over the novel, reducing all others to two-dimensional ciphers. Were there any awareness that Harry's obsession has nothing to do with his wife and everything to do with himself, the novel could be a fascinating indictment of the ways in which female creativity can be filtered and muted by a male audience. But both Harry and author Jacqui Lofthouse (The Temple of Hymen) play things perfectly straight. When Harry pouts, upon reading Alison's journal, the reader is expected to sympathize with his self-absorption: "She was intent on her journey but her ultimate goal was obscure. Only one thing was clear: I was not a part of it. At her death, a great chasm of silence opened in my heart. But Alison, in her last notebook, did not pause to contemplate my loss."
When Alison finally speaks for herself in those journal pages, her words are vigorous and devastating, putting Harry's self-absorbed rambling to shame. What a pity, then, that her words are so few. They hint at what her unfinished novel might have been. More ironically, they hint at what Lofthouse's own text could have become. --Kelly Flynn
From Publishers Weekly
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