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on 17 July 2017
Complex and dark in places, but well-written and consistent. A fine experience to give one's time to such an accomplished writer. This is one ofAnita Shreve's best books.
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on 24 August 2017
excellent story, very interesting with a sting in the tale
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on 19 July 2017
Really enjoyed this!
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on 7 June 2017
This is a gloomy book written from the point of view of an unpleasant man. The characters remind me of Soames and Irene in The Forsyte Saga - he possessive and jealous of a wife who does not love him, she cold and trying to pull away, loving someone else. Even the rape scene is there. I found Etna bland and selfish so did not see why she inspired such passion. Shreve has also written The Lives Of Stella Bain which has the same characters. It is not a sequel but an alternative story of Etna's escape with a different ending. Perhaps Shreve wanted to try again to improve the story!!
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on 15 May 2017
I recently bought this book from a pre-read book stall. Almost as soon as I started reading it I knew I had read it before, but I couldn't really remember it. It is a satisfying, if somewhat gloomy and disturbing, read. I love the style in which it is written -that of a late Victorian gentleman, a pedantic academic. A story of wrongs and misunderstandings, repression and obsession. A very good book.
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on 9 February 2012
This is a terrific period novel by the author, and she very capably captures the social mores and customs of the times. Dealing with desire and obsession, secrets and betrayal, the book certainly delivers a rich reading experience that will keep the reader riveted to its pages.

The story therein is a first person narrative told in flashback by Nicholas Van Tassel. The pivotal story begins at the turn of the twentieth century, when the narrator is an undistinguished professor at a small New England college. A bachelor, he spies Etna Bliss, a pretty, single woman and falls in love at first sight. As luck would have it, he enables her to escape from a fire, creating a connection that he will use to press his suit. That chance meeting will ultimately end in marriage. After all, her only other option is to live as a poor relation in her married sister's household.

What happens to Nicholas and Etna, as well as the tragic results of the bargain they each made when they entered into their marriage, reveals much about each of them and is also reflective of the time in which they lived. This is a wonderfully told, thematically complex tale that is evocative of a bygone era.
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on 21 October 2017
This is one of the most boring and disturbingly unpleasant books that I've read. What with the weirdly obsessive teller of the story, the unemotional and secretive nature of the woman, the strange and ugly names, the language and manners of Victorian times, I had to make myself finish reading the book in the hope that it would improve and become more interesting and credible.- It didn't, and It left ' a nasty taste in my mouth ' and has put me off reading other Anita Shreve books.
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on 14 March 2006
I always enjoy Anita Shreves writing. Her style is a beautiful elegant prose which is descriptive without being wordy. This is my favorite of her books and I have passed it to all my reading friends (to universal praise). Ms Shreve is often described as a romance writer altough there is really nothing romantioc about this book. Nicholas Van Tassel recounts the story of his relationship with Etna Bliss, it is curiously one sided as Etnas actions are described from Nicholas' view and her voice is only heard once through a series of brief letters. What emerges is a study of Nicholas' character. An educated man in a Victorian world his flaws are dissected with a clarity which still allows you to retain some sympathy for him despite his behaviour. Etna remains for us as she does for him an unknown quanitity despite his passion for her. As their relationship is descibed by an older Nicholas through its almost inevitable unraveling it builds to a disturbing climax which leaves you reflecting on how much anyone knows about the people they love
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on 27 December 2008
This is the story not of an evil man, rather of a 'sad' man - an unexceptional man, who nevertheless wants success. Now sixty-four, Nicholas van Tassel tells his own story; how, at the turn of the 20th century and at the age of thirty, a bachelor and professor at a New England college, his eyes fall upon Etna Bliss and from that moment he's a man obsessed. He must have her and he will have her under any conditions. Etna is a woman of her time and a victim of circumstances which she sees as beyond her control - marriage seems a solution, even though she admits to Nicholas that she doesn't love him. His love for her, however, is so overwhelming that he believes she will, in time, learn to return that love. A recipe for disaster of course, heightened by the fact that he discovers on their wedding night that his wife is not a virgin! The years pass and the couple have two children; all appears well even though Etna has never found any passion for her husband. Then, fourteen years later, a newcomer arrives at the College and this sets a series of ripples in motion. Jealousy is born within Nicholas as he feels threatened; this time he will do what he has to in order to hold onto what he sees as his - both in his personal and professional life. At this time, Etna, although constrained by the conventions of that age, has a spark of independence in her and it's the actions that result from this free spirit that eventually cause the death of the marriage. Van Tassel, however, is even then reluctant to admit defeat and in trying desperately to win her back, he reduces himself to lies and deceit. Anita Shreve has created a real-life character in Van Tassel; we are able to observe how the gift of love can just as easily turn into a curse. And love has no respect for intelligence - all are equal when caught in its thrall and all can find themselves capable of acting upon baser instincts when loss is threatened. A good read(and this was second time 'round for me!).
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on 30 January 2004
I have read 5 of her books - and this is ranks fifth in my opinion. There are two major protagonists - neither of which I was drawn too - and in fact found distasteful most of the time. I expect this is how we are meant to feel - since the book reflects the many lives that are lived without passion or love. I had to force myself to keep reading throughout the book, and whilst it was satisfying to finally know the reason for such chilliness within the protagonists hearts I did not find the book worth the effort. It's written in a dry tone to reflect the dryness of the marriage. I found myself wishing I knew the other people's stories - not that of Nicholas. Unsatisfying, and vaguely depressing.
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