This novel is very well-written with a strong voice. The voice overwhelms the three points of view from which the story is told: Elysse, the step-daughter; Francis, the step-father, and Aidan, Francis’ school teacher and mentor who is friend to both. Each has a small group of significant companions—the wise and good grandfather, the damaged aunt, the lovers, and above all Magdalene, David’s mother and the model for the Angry Woman Suite, a set of ten paintings. These paintings were intended, we are told, to represent a marriage, but we are also told, there is nothing loving about them. The novel, like the paintings, is suffused with anger, hate and pain—“the hurting is always caused by someone who loves you and you love back.”
Of Magdelene herself, it is said that she is “suspended between avoidance and obsession.” Like one of the characters in an episode, the reader moves through the story as if striding through “corridors redolent of old urine and spent dreams.” What love shows through in brief moments here and there in the novel appears when there is comfort that comes from “recognition of the beloved.” Withall, this is a bleak and unsettling story; yet, it is nonetheless a compelling read.
Now we know--that the corollary of a Romantic piety is not true--that our saddest thoughts do not yield our sweetest songs. But they do yield novels that deserve to be read.