I was given this book as a Christmas present (by my mother of all wonderful ironies) and started reading it quite innocent of subject. This is not a happy book. I should note that I personally found it quite disturbing, which will obviously slant my reading of it.
From the outset, the novel plunges you straight into horror, at its most mundane and dreary. It then opens out into all the misery of disfunctional family relations, the effects of severe mental illness on a family and the grim hardship of the role of family carer.
The heroine, Helen Knightly is not a sympathetic figure. On one level she reveals herself as hopelessly insane and twisted yet, on another level seems outwardly functional. After her shocking action at the beginning of the book and the wierd and somehow even more disturbing actions that followed it, I was perhaps expecting some shocking revelation of abuse and cruelty that would explain, if not justify. This did not transpire – Helen’s mother Clair was a weak, sick and not very nice woman, an inadequate mother but she was not a monster. I found the level of acceptance offered by those who learned of Helen’s action a little unbelievable. The fact that Helen was even ready to let another person take the blame for her actions makes her all the more unlikable.
The novel does offer some hope of redemption, in the shape of the love Helen shows her own children, her refusal to pass on the legacy of weakness and her mother’s ultimate betrayal of failing to protect her child, but whether that shaft of light is bright enough to penetrate the darkness is another question.