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The Stillest Day [Paperback]

Josephine Hart
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Mar 1999
Bethesda Grant is an artist and a teacher. Her village life is order-ed and calm, until one day the sudden vision of a man's face sears itself onto her mind's eye, an imprint of sensual, hypnotic power. She begins to paint fragmented images of Mathew Pearson, secretly and obsessively. But Mathew Pearson has a wife, a small, laughing, preg-nant creature, whom Bethesda's mother befriends. On the stillest day Bethesda performs an act so bold and violent that it shatters all their lives - she performs a very bloody and risky emergency caesarean on Mathew's wife, using a piece of mirror glass, to deliver a baby daughter, leaving the mother dead. THE STILLEST DAY is an exquisitely taut and shocking novel about a young woman at the turn of the century who transgresses - both in life and in art - the limits set down for her.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 207 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (4 Mar 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099275333
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099275336
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 396,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Back Cover

Damage: 'Damage is a masterpiece.' Washington Post

'Damage is really a poem... Lorca says that 'the poem that pierces the heart like a knife has yet to be written', but I felt that kind of knife dangling somewhere in Damage' - Ted Hughes

Sin: 'A compelling, literary and sinister tale filtered through a sophisticated intelligence' Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

'As in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, innocence and virtue are cruelly and deliberately betrayed, as the reader looks on with mingled shock and fascination... a tour de force.' Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

Oblivion: 'Josephine Hart, whose two earlier novels have already established her as one of our most imaginative and poetic novelists, has produced here a strange but compelling meditation on grief, loss, and the curious nature of love.' Sunday Telegraph

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Born and educated in Ireland, Josephine Hart is the bestselling author of Damage (filmed with Juliette Binoche and Jeremy Irons), Sin and Oblivion. Her work has been translated into twenty-six languages. She founded Gallery Poets and produced several successful West End plays, including The House of Bernarda Alba, The Vortex and Iris Murdoch's The Black Prince, and has also presented Thames TV's Books By My Bedside. She is married to Maurice Saatchi and has two sons. She lives in London.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling,Unusual Tale 19 Sep 2000
THE STILLEST DAY, rich in ambiguity, is unlike anything I've read before, and I'll be wondering about it for a long time to come. Bethesda Barnet, age 30, is an artist living in a quiet turn-of-the-century village. She tends her invalid mother, with whom she shares a home, and teaches art in the village school, an unchallenging job. This tedium is lightened somewhat by visits to Lord Grantleigh, the local nobleman, who appreciates her talent, and the drawn-out courtship of a pleasant if unexciting man. And, of course, there is always her painting. She declares herself content with her dull life, but early on I sensed that a woman of her intelligence and imagination craved greater stimulation. It comes in the face, quite literally, of Mathew Pearson, who moves into the house next door with his pregnant wife. From the moment she sees him, Bethesda is transfixed. Though Mathew displays no interest in her beyond basic courtesy, she becomes eerily obsessed by him, painting his face on her mirror so his image will merge with hers, and having secret "conversations" with him in the privacy of her bedroom. On "the stillest day," when time seems to halt, Bethesda does something which may well be heroic, but is in the eyes of the villagers dangerous and unacceptable, meddling with God's ways. Henceforth Bethesda's life will spiral into tragedy.
The sheer reading of this was a pleasure, because Hart is a gifted writer. Her lyrical style beguiled me, and her intimations of cataclysmic events to come kept me fascinated. The book is written in first person, narrated by Bethesda, and I like the way everything is filtered through her painterly vision. Also of interest is the way her artwork reflects her state of mind.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and a little surreal 20 April 2003
By A Customer
I love Josephine Hart's style of writing. It has a very serious edge to it, yet it takes the reader in within the first few pages. This novel, however, was very compelling and haunting in the first half, but following events that take place on 'The Stillest Day', it tends to become somewhat confusing, which made me wonder whether some of the events were in Bethesda's mind or whether they were really taking place. Nevertheless, a very beautifully written book which, unfortunately, does not have a clear-cut ending.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece - but please explain it to me! 16 Oct 1998
By jeffreygross@hotmail.com - Published on Amazon.com
I am speechless. Speechless because this novel is written with such brillance and intellect that few writers can achieve such a feat. Speechless, too, because even though I consider myself a good reader I do not think I understood the ending of this novel. I closed the book saying, "what happened?" After re-reading the final 10 pages 3 times I feel I have a grasp of 90% of what the author was illustrating with her characters; yet, I'm still perplexed by the remaining 10%. I cannot divulge too much of what I do not understand for fear that I may ruin it for other readers. I only hope that other readers who partake in this novel may respond as to the conclusions they draw upon its ending. The first half of this novel tells the story of Bethesda Barnet, an unmarried artist and teacher living a life of routiness. She takes care of her invalid mother, paints and teaches day after day after day. It is not until she lays her eyes upon Mathew Pearson that her life becomes a sea of obsession. Bethesda uses her artistic abilities to obsessively paint Mathew on mirrors. Ms. Hart brillantly weaves the reflections life and art have on the soul; and, in essence, this theory becomes the heart and soul of "The Stillest Day." And, after a major event occurs, which one may call courageous or violent, Bethesda's life is severely changes. And, thus, we enter into the second portion of this novel which examines Bethesda's life and state of mind. Often times, it seems like Ms. Hart becomes overly dramatic in her story-telling; yet, when one considers gothic pieces of literature, Ms. Hart seems justified. Ms. Hart display much of how I find truly gifted English novelists to be - sparse language steeped with complexities. One must read in-between the lines to understand Ms. Hart's writing. And though I did not understand this novel entirely, I can appreciate the brillance. One will always look at a major traumatic event in one's life as "The Stillest Day." This is a difficult novel to read but I think one which people should be exposed to. Please, I hope someone out there will explain to me the final 2 scenes of this novel.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Pull of darkness and the light it sheds 1 April 2000
By Dr. Jason D. Hill - Published on Amazon.com
Every once in a while a writer comes along who refuses to indulge in the illusions we rely on to bolster life in the modern world; she refuses to pander to the need for sentimentality and the romantic belief in the perfectability of human nature;she graces us with a dark lingering pathos and we return again and again because we believe that in the process some crucial feauture has been restored to our humanity, some insight bequeathed to us which leaves us wiser and more grown up but not cynical. Such a writer is Josephine Hart whose unique and dark vision can be found in her three previous novel. The Stillest Day, perhaps her most chilling, is a tale of the obsession, love and cruelty that lie below the artifices of civilization, artifices that are really cosmetic gestures we devise to prevent ourselves from killing each other. Bethesday Barnet, artist and teacher, falls for Mathew Pearson. Why? We don't know. She sees him. She is hooked, so to speak, and the rest is pure tragedy.She finds herself inexorably pulled to a destiny whose outcome she knows will end in her destruction but which she cannot resist. Like the moth drawn to the flame she honors her destiny and fate by succumbing to the will of the gods who plan it all. The last few pages of this novel are among the most chilling I have ever read. Hart also allows us to own our shadows in the process of witnessing her dark characters. We can't really like these people, partly because they teach us about the sides of ourselves we wish didn't exist. We are drawn to her strange and twisted characters because they lead us out of the darkness by allowing the integrity of their lives to shine through their every action--even the deceptive ones. In the process we attain spiritual freedom, or perhaps enlightenment because we leave with an expanded consciousness and a sense of new moral realities which they have traversed and which have cost them their lives. Apart from all this, however, Hart has some really beautiful turns of phrase. She is simply an exquisitely beautiful craftsman whose writing is lean, mean and cold as a tombstone. She is a writer of wisdom who, in the style of the pithy aphorism, sheds more light on the human condition than a room full of many a philsophical treatise. Among some of the gems are: "Small societies practice best a democracy of silence. And sins of omission and commission fall softly into a collective, selective amnesia." And further: " I fear that our honesty has a quality of finality about it. When there is nothing to preserve, only then are men and women honest with each other." Here is the description of the first time she set eyes on Mathew: "His rain-washed face was what I first saw. It was turned to the heavens which drenched the wetness further, so that rivulets of water ran down his white skin. And in that instant I longed to let my hair loose to dry the unknown wonder of that vision." An elegant craftman who lets you into the minds of her characters just enough to let you recognize yourself before shattering the temptation to pity you might be inclined to feel because of this self-recognition, The Stillest Day is an invigorating and disturbing read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Relentless journey to ambiguity 23 May 2006
By Elizabeth J. Brown - Published on Amazon.com
Like a previous reviewer, I'm not sure what the ending of 'The Stillest Day" means either. I re-read it several times myself and concluded -- but not to my complete satisfaction -- that Bethesda was paying penance. I sent the book to a friend whose wisdom and judgment I trust and she was equally mystified.

I've decided that's OK. Josephine Hart is not the greatest writer in the English language, but she is not without prodigious gifts. And like those of greater authors, many of her stories are open to interpretation. So are periods in most of our lives.

Ms. Hart set a tone and style with her first novel, "Damage," and seems committed to it. Her prose is spare and her perennial theme of obsession remains an irrestible draw. "The Stillest Day" was the first of her novels to be set in the past and the first with a female protagonist, but the universality of obsession remains vivid and relentless. Like all Hart's other main characters, Bethesda is the only one in the novel convinced of the liberating power of obsession. She cannot see that while she is closing windows in her life, neither is she opening doors.

Josephine Hart is truly the mistress of her domain.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible 17 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
The book starts off slow, but gradually rises. The language is beautiful, though the middle to the end is a bit disturbing, to say the least...
3.0 out of 5 stars Forms of expression 6 Jan 2013
By Little Mari - Published on Amazon.com
I was disturbed at the 'idea' that someone would be so desperate to rid themselves of obsession that they would mutilate their own body in front of the object of their desire. However, it was portrayed in a much more poetic way than most people choose in real life. I also re-read much of the book myself after finishing it. At first to find out what significance Thomas had to the story, as I didn't recall reading about a Thomas. However, I have concluded that since he was representing someone else (which is not mentioned at all), who knew about the paintings, I feel Thomas is quite insignificant. After re-reading a lot of it, I do feel as though I have a clearer picture of her psyche. It's sad that people can escape reality so well that it allows others to exploit them further. I remain furious with Bethesda for routinely having a sexual relationship with Grantleigh. The Author did introduce this idea quite early: "Ritual sustained me in the belief that protection lay within its repetition" (page 6) so I should have had a clue to Bethesda's way of coping.
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