Publication Date: 2007
Challenges: A-Z Reading #46 (O Author)
Iris Lockhart is doing OK. She’s got her vintage clothing shop, the affair with a married lawyer is a bit complicated, but she’s in kind of a ‘wait and see how it goes’ pattern with that. She gets a bit of a shock, however, when she gets a call from a soon to be closing mental hospital telling her that she’s listed in their records as the person responsible for her great aunt who is about to be discharged. Esme Lennox has been locked up in the asylum for over 60 years (since she was 16 years old).
It’s a shock because Iris has no idea that she even has a great aunt. As far as she knows her grandmother was an only child. Unfortunately her grandmother (Kitty) is in the advanced stages of Alzheimers disease and not exactly full of useful information about the woman who is supposedly her sister.
I loved this book. The story is told from multiple viewpoints and the time frame jumps around from Esme’s early life in colonial India to present time and many various points and viewpoints in between. I know some people would find that confusing, but I really enjoyed it. The reader hears from Iris, from Esme as she experiences life outside the institution for the first time since she was young, from Esme as she remembers her past and also from Kitty via her Alzheimer’s-addled memories. Yes it could be confusing, but I found it to be fascinating and engrossing. I didn’t want to put this book down and probably would have read straight through it if I’d picked it up on a quiet weekend.
The story of Esme and Kitty and how Esme came to be institutionalized at a time when unconventional behavior (particularly by women) was just not normal is intriguing. The twists are telegraphed early enough that they weren’t really much of a surprise to me, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will definitely be putting Maggie O’Farrell’s other books on my TBR list.