Iris Lockhart has been led to believe that she is the third generation in her family of only children. Her father was an only child, and her grandmother, Kitty, was an only child as well. She’s therefore stunned when she’s contacted by Cauldstone Hospital (a psychiatric facility) regarding Esme Lennox, her great-aunt, who is being released after more than sixty years. Unable to ask her now senile grandmother the truth, Iris takes custody of Esme. As the novel progresses, we learn why Esme was confined in the first place- and Iris discovers that Esme’s existence isn’t the only secret her grandmother kept.
This is a very well-written story about family and secrets. How well do we really know the ones we love? And even if we know them, do we really understand them? Or do we just interpret their actions and beliefs through our own filters?
As I was reading this novel, I kept thinking one thing: I am glad that the rules regarding insanity and hospitalization have changed during the last sixty years. The way Esme was treated by her family and by the institution in which she was placed was reprehensible. Nothing that Esme did was particularly crazy, but she was shunned by her family because she was different. Even her sister, the one person Esme thought she could count on, ended up allowing herself to perpetuate Esme’s imprisonment. Certainly nothing she did warranted being locked away for more than sixty years.In the end, I’m not entirely convinced she was sane, but I’m not convinced of her insanity, either.
While I was fascinated by Esme and Kitty, I was less impressed with and invested in Iris. I kept thinking that with a bit more effort, her complexities could have been truly engaging.
Overall, I’d recommend this book, particularly if you’re looking for something a bit thought-provoking.
Rating: 4 stars
Qualifying Challenges: 100 Books, 999 Challenge, Winter Reading Challenge, Countdown Challenge
999 Category: Women in Fiction