Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Sisters Mortland by Sally Beauman

This novel is set in England in the late 1960’s and early 90’s. It is primarily a tale of three sisters, their companions, and a tragedy that occurs in the summer of 1967. From three points-of-view the story is told over three different time periods. Maisie, the youngest sister at thirteen in 1967, introduces us to the complex household in an old convent. Maisie’s life revolves around her sisters, her mom, her grandfather, Dan – a local boy with gypsy blood, Nick – the doctor’s son, and Lucas – a painter living on the grounds.

The second part of the story is told from Dan’s point-of-view. It is the early 90’s and the painting Lucas made of the three sisters has become quite well-known. Dan has always been in love with Finn, the middle sister, and wonders how they ever grew apart. I found the story told from his perspective the most interesting part of the book. An example of the author’s writing from Dan’s perspective when he goes to the gallery to see the famous picture: “Slowly, reluctantly, I raise my eyes to the portrait. I know it so well, yet every time I look at it, it morphs. It will not remain stable; it retains a nasty capacity to alarm, puzzle, perturb, delight, arouse, blind, and illuminate.”

Dan also records the story of that summer allowing the narrative to continue from Julia, the oldest sister. At the end of the book I still had some questions, especially about the younger two sisters, that were left unanswered. Possibly that is meant to be like real life, where you can never really know all you want about a person. This is a hefty book, and a good one to take on a trip. I read a lot of it on the train back to Oregon from the Bay Area.

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