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The sixteen enchanted years of Janet's life in the Scottish countryside end tragically as she lies murdered beneath the castle stairs, attired in her mother's black lace nightgown, mourned by only one small black bird. A first novel.
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A first novel of Bront‰an intensity and Gothic nastiness from British writer Barker, who, in telling the story of an irrevocably doomed young woman, indicts Scottish life as well. Janet, the eldest of five--born in her grandparents' comfortable manse near Edinburgh while father Hector is away at war--soon begins the cycle of hurts that will culminate in her murder at 16. After her beloved grandmother dies, Janet is soon and permanently supplanted in her mother's affections by a quick succession of more babies. Vera, the mother, ``only really liked babies and found children annoying. In fact, she said it was possible for a mother to dislike her own child''--a fact that doesn't cheer Janet but does reconcile her somewhat to her mother's coldness. But a move to a remote ancestral castle, an austerely beautiful place where winter is five months long, merely isolates Janet further. Her only consolations are reading, learning Latin and Greek, nature, and the friendship of an aging and alcoholic cousin whom her mother detests and soon sends away. Residing in Caledonia, whose Calvinist nature is ``pitiless,'' Janet, exquisitely sensitive to pain and suffering, is predestined to be unhappy. At home, she is ignored by her family; away at boarding school, a bleak and relentlessly anti-intellectual place, she survives by helping with homework and telling stories against herself; and a venture into local society is a disaster. School over, Janet returns home, where her family and their servants treat her with even greater insensitivity. Someone like poor Janet- -isolated, her only companion a bird she's rescued, and increasingly emotionally distraught--can have no happy ending: her rather abrupt murder is a welcome end to a life of unmitigated misery. The unceasing victimization of Janet can seem just too much, as the point is soon taken about narrow and pitiless Caledonia. But, still, this is an interesting debut, with some beautifully lyrical evocations of place and emotion. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
In this ebulliently imaginative cross beween bildungsroman and fable, Barker makes magic with both her language and her subject. Janet, the protagonist, is born in Edinburgh during WW II. Her inattentive, eccentric parents, after a course of alternately baiting and tolerating their daughter, finally leave her to her own devices--serious mischief, books and the isolation of a misunderstood intellectual adolescent--while they increase their fold by four more offspring. By then the family has moved to a sprawling old castle in the lonely north of Scotland called Auchnasaugh ("the field of sighing"). Darker intimations of mortality mix with childhood escapades as Barker's quick, urbane narration and high-flown, wicked humor convey as well the passions and pain of her protagonist. The fate awaiting Janet in the final pages, though clearly foretold in the preface, comes with a shock, as this entrancing first novel, winner of Britain's David Higham Prize, casts a spell that will make readers willingly forget what they know.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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