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.