3 stars

Spoilers have been written in white text which can be read by highlighting the relevant passage.

Oh, I so nearly gave this four stars. I was going to right up to the end, but that ending just left me cold.

For the most part, this book was incredible; the characters felt so real and so warm, Esme’s plight was awful and as more was revealed about her life before she was put away and about how she came to be locked up in the first place, my sympathy for her grew more and more. I also loved the three different perspectives the narration offered; the detailed, analytical, yet awed descriptions of Esme; the emotional, more relatable ones of Iris; and Kitty’s broken lines of thought. It added a whole new dimension to things, especially when Kitty would vaguely reference something from her past which would later be elaborated upon. Out of all of these characters, I realise that not one of them is happy, or has had a happy life, but they’re still a very varied cast with believable relationships and personalities.

This book would have garnered a four-star review from me, possibly even five, with its profundity and clever story-telling and interesting commentary on the social mores of the past and present (I’m talking about Iris and Alex’s relationship here specifically). I didn’t need a dramatic ending. It could have finished with Esme going in to talk to Kitty and I would have applauded it in every way possible, but *SPOILERS* for her to kill her sister seemed over the top and ridiculous. True, she’d left her to rot in the asylum and had taken her baby, but at least Esme knew that her baby had had a good life and she has now completely scuppered her chances both at time with her newly-discovered granddaughter and her chances of ever being free again. You’d think that, after 60 years being locked up, the chance to be free would be a more attractive one than petty revenge on a senile old woman who is barely aware of her surroundings. Yes, Esme is seen as mentally unhinged by many of the people in her life, but the book made a big point of telling the reader that in fact she was completely with-it, just unconventional. *END SPOILERS*

I know some may have enjoyed that ending, but for me it seemed so out of place with the whole book that it was jarring and unrealistic. Perhaps after some time has passed I will come more to terms with it and accept it, but for now it has partially ruined my enjoyment of this book.

That awful ending aside, I loved this book and I will definitely be returning to Maggie O’Farrell’s writing some day.