A bleak tale of life in rural Ireland over two generations. Jane, orphaned as a small child, is unable to feel love, and views others with suspicion. She marries and has children young, but is unable to be happy with her husband. Her depression, mingled with a fair degree of spite, leaves a terrible legacy for her husband and children. Madden alternates between the story of Jane's life and the story of Sarah and Catherine, Jane's daughters, and their lives after Jane's death. Both girls are clearly damaged by their childhoods: Sarah is frustrated and bitter, using her bitterness to hurt her sister and their neighbour Peter (child of James's old friend Ellen, and in love with Sarah); Catherine, who longs to be a nun, is a depressive with a terrible memory, unable to relate much to others. Uneasy with each other, both sisters manage to unearth terrible secrets about their family, which add to their distress. While Madden's descriptions of the farm where the girls live and of the neighbouring countryside are beautiful, the bleakness of the stories of both Jane and the two sisters make some of the book almost unbearably painful to read. Nor, really, is there much of a sense of resolution at the end of the book, apart from in an uneasy truce between the sisters. This is a tragedy with no catharsis.
Madden's most depressing novel by a long way - the grimness of the story makes your average Thomas Hardy novel seem fairly light and cheerful!