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This haunting and evocative novel was the first Orange Prize Winner and set a high standard for future hopefuls. Helen Dunmore creates a world which is at once understandable and yet totally different. Rob and Catherine live in virtual isolation in the crumbling old house belonging to their grandfather. It is gradually revealed to us that their mother has left and is living abroad, while their father, unable to cope without her, has been admitted to a sanitorium. We see events through the eyes of Cathy - a young girl who so resembles her mother that her grandfather can hardly bear to look at her, while their governess, the boy hating Miss Gallagher, harbours an obsessive and unhealthy love for her. Only Kate, the no nonsense Irish servant, brings some kind of stability to the children.

As Cathy and Rob grow older, the outside world intrudes. Cathy has a suitor, in the form of a rich neighbour; while Rob has the beautiful Livvy - as light as Cathy is dark. Yet, Rob and Cathy are thrown together too much, with too many secrets to bind them together. This is a novel of forbidden love, family secrets and how Cathy gradually becomes a woman and learns to understand what drove her mother away. This is a quiet and thought provoking read, which really packs a punch. Helen Dunmore has long been one of my favourite authors and I enjoyed revisiting this early novel.
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on 9 July 2017
Teenagers Rob and Catherine have been raised almost isolated from the outside world, living in their grandfather’s estate. Their mother is living abroad, their father is in a sanitorium. We aren’t sure of the time period that this book is set in until the involving story lets world events invade the very private gothic world of a house and estate that is returning to nature. This is a seductively gripping book in a lyrical poetic way. A book to re-read and enjoy and an author to revisit.
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on 17 June 2017
This early novel from the poet novelist Helen Dunmore has all the elements of a gothic romance. A decaying house, slowly making its way back to nature becoming the habitation of owls ,an incestuous love, a murdered governess set in an icy cold winter. Dunmore evokes an atmosphere of desolation in which the babes in the wood abandoned by their mother become involved in darker things. The novel shimmers with metaphor and beautiful language.
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on 20 July 2017
A Challenging subject which was excellently dealt with by Helen Dunmore. How sad there will be.no more from this great writer.
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on 3 April 2017
Good
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on 21 June 2017
beautifully written but i felt it lost its way in places
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on 3 August 2017
Interesting
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on 27 April 2017
This book started well, but I became more & more unhappy with the incest portrayed as if it were normal. I normally read books quickly but I kept putting it down and having to go back later. It wasn't anywhere close to her other stories.
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on 21 April 2014
Generally love Helen Dunmore's books especially The Siege, The Lie and The Greatcoat but this one failed to draw me in and I gave up after a few chapters.
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on 15 June 2007
This is a dark, disturbing novel, but strangely haunting. I read it when it was first published, and re-read it more recently. It is my favourite Helen Dunmore, and certainly, in my opinion, her most poetic, the language sometimes so striking that I re-read whole chunks, savouring the unexpected use of words, descriptions that make me gasp with admiration. Phrases such as, 'Her voice poured like treacle over the polished floor,' and, 'The corridor seemed to have swallowed up our voices too,' are breathtaking, but it is the overall impression of the coldness of winter, Catherine's season, that permeates the whole story. 'This morning the ice on my basin of water is so thick I can not break it. The windows stare back at me, blind with frost.'

Helen Dunmore evokes all the senses to the full, so much so that you almost feel the scratchy roughness of Rob's jacket against your skin, and suffer the claustrophobic intensity of Miss Gallagher's interest in Catherine, the young narrator. You instinctively dislike Miss Gallagher, an impression underlined by the writing: 'Her bicycle was by the front steps. Upright, ugly and insistent.' And, 'The coat flopped around her, long and lean as a washed-out banana.'

Kate, the Irish maid, is the one warm gleam in the children's otherwise wintry lives, but apart from Kate they have only each other. The book, set around the first world war, is an exploration of their relationship and its development as they grow up. The story might have its darker aspects but I loved it. I would urge anyone interested in the beauty of the English language to read it and savour every word.
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