Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Sisters Mortland by Sally Beauman

Sally Beauman gives us the haunting tragic gothic story of the Mortland sisters, Julia, Finn and little Maisie in The Sisters Mortland. Told in three different perspectives, Beauman’s adept story telling first draws us into thirteen year old Maisie’s world at the ramshackle medieval Wyken Abbey in the country fields of Suffolk. Living life with her loving frail grandfather, scatterbrained mother and much older sisters, the vainglorious Julia and intelligent Finn, odd little Maisie has ghostly nuns as friends and makes lists upon lists of topics including the saints and martyrs and horticulture. Although seemingly highly intelligent, she still worries her family and friends. Lucas, an aspiring artist from Julia’s university, is commissioned to paint the sisters and is there through childhood friend and neighbor Dan, a Roma gypsy boy who eschews his family gifts and strives to be something more. Twenty years later, Dan, suffering a breakdown from the high stress life of an extremely successful advertising career, looks back on the life at Wyken Abbey and the tragic accident that occurred at the end of the summer of 1967, filling in the gaps left by Maisie’s account. The final account by Julia, although short, brings the tale into the present day. Beauman is a master of timing as she gradually reveals all that happened. Compelling and addictive, The Sisters Mortland is a tale of the many forms of passion, love, and grief.
Personal notes: Okay, I think that after the “formal” review, I’ll just add some thoughts about the book. Beauman did a spectacular job of raising the suspense and after I got through reading Maisie’s account and then Dan’s account started with little references to “the accident,” I felt almost like I was eavesdropping (I know, bad habit) and dying to find out what exactly happened. Beauman also did a great job with the characters, especially with Julia. I hated her in the beginning but actually ended up sympathizing (or at least understanding her) by the end. I almost didn’t read this book because a couple of years ago I started Beauman’s Rebecca’s Tale, a companion book of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and I don’t even think I finished the first chapter which is an almost unheard of event…I am nothing if not an obssesive reader.

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