Skip to main content

The Sisters Mortland by Sally Beauman

The Sisters Mortland by Sally Beauman stars a rather incestuous group of friends made up of a triumvirate of sisters and three male friends.  The story is atmospheric, lyrical, gothic and complicated.  Okay complicated might be putting it mildly describing the dynamics running beneath the surface of this tragic family and its slightly dysfunctional entanglements binding them one to another that ultimately rend them asunder and estranged.  The story is divided into three parts told from three different perspectives--that of the youngest sister, Maisie; Daniel Nunn, the poor, village boy of Romany descent who's a childhood friend of the family; and Julia, the eldest of the sisters.

The story opens in the seemingly idyllic summer of 1967, but appearances are deceiving and when the summer's through, a summer in which change is expected as childhood friends grow up and strike out on their own, the Mortland family and those who loved them will never be the same.  There are three Mortland sisters: Julia, the eldest, who is both arrogant and at times cruel; Fin, the middle sister, who is loved since childhood by Daniel Nunn; and Maisie, the youngest, who feels invisible, is described as 'touched' and communes with the ghosts of the dead.

Maisie begins the story in '67--she's thirteen.  She sees all, observes all, but does she understand all that she sees and observes?  Clearly eccentric, possibly 'touched' as they say, she does after all see and communicate with the centuries dead nuns who once inhabited the converted abbey that her family now owns.  A lover of stories, she likes nothing better than the ones told her, by her mother, by her grandfather and others even though she's beginning to tease out the bits of truth hidden beneath layers upon layers of embellishments.  And there are also the stories Maisie tells--she tells them to show people the truth.  That summer there are childhood friends staying with the family--Daniel, and Lucas, an artist picked up by Daniel and Fin at university and whose portrait of the three sisters painted that summer will go on to become famous.  There's also Nick, Daniel's best friend from childhood, son of the village doctor who is himself studying medicine.  Two of these men love two of the sisters in their own ways and will be bound to them in the wake of the tragic end to that summer.

Flash forward two decades and Daniel picks up the narrative thread.  He's disconnected and estranged from both the Mortland sisters and his friends, Nick and Lucas, and he's clearly destroyed by the events of that summer and the experiences of the ensuing years as well as the ghost of what might have been had it not all gone wrong.  He's fast spiraling down into a self-destructive, suicidal haze of drugs and alcohol.  His career's imploded and he's alienated himself from all colleagues and friends.  Daniel runs into Nick, by chance, at the exhibit featuring an introspective of all Lucas' work, among its featured pieces is the now famous portrait of the three Mortland sisters.  Nick, too, is clearly unhappy with how his life's turned out though he's kept his destruction somewhat more self contained.  All this unhappiness for Nick and for Dan can be traced back to that last summer--a summer that still hides devastating secrets, a summer that has bred years of lies.

In the wake of his meeting with Nick, Daniel chucks the drugs and the alcohol and turns his sights on that long ago summer day--the one when Maisie fell--determined to remember it all, analyze every last memory and detail, determined to tease out just why and how it all went wrong.  Was the fall an accident? Was it deliberate?  If so, how far in advance had it been planned?   In these answers, Daniel hopes to find some form of redemption.  Instead the answers that Daniel finds are to questions he hasn't asked and in these answers Daniel finds neither redemption nor comfort because that last summer isn't done dealing tragedy and heartbreak.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Broken by Karin Slaughter

Before I begin the formal review there are a few things I need to get off my chest in the wake of finishing this book; I'll do so without giving away too many (or any) spoilers.
The OUTRAGE!: the identity of Detective Lena Adams' new beau; the low depths to which Grant County's interim chief has sunk and brought the police force down with him; agent Will Trent's wife, Angie's, sixth sense/nasty habit of reappearing in his life just when he's slipping away from her. Thank God for small miracles though because while Angie was certainly referred to during the book, the broad didn't make an appearance. One sign that I've become way too invested in these characters is that I'd like to employ John Connolly's odd pair of assassins, Louis and Angel, to contract out a hit on Angie; do you think Karin Slaughter and John Connolly could work out a special cross over?
Hallelujah: Dr. Sara Linton and agent Will Trent are both back. There is no hallelujah for…

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

When the end came, it seemed to do so completely out of the blue, and it wasn't until long afterward that I was able to see that there was a chain of events leading up to it. Some of those events had nothing to do with us, the Morrisons, but were solely the concern of the Pyes, who lived on a farm about a mile away and were our nearest neighbors." from page seven
I must confess that it took me longer than it really needed to in order to finish the novel Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. The entire story is building up to the big catastrophe that forever destroys all the hopes and dreams the Morrison clan ever dared to hope and dream for its future. In the eyes of the narrator, it is even worse than the tragedy of the car crash that claimed both parents' lives one evening on the heels of some good news the family has received and celebrated. Now you can see why I dreaded getting to the end of a book that drips in foreboding like nobody's business. What can be a worse tra…

In The Woods by Tana French

"What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with the truth is fundamental, but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass. It is the core of our careers, the endgame of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies ... and every variation on deception. The truth is the most desirable woman in the world and we are the most jealous lovers, reflexively denying anyone else the slightest glimpse of her. We betray her routinely ... This is my job ... What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this--two things: I crave truth. And I lie." opening lines of In The Woods chapter 1, pages 3-4
In The Woods by Tana French, an Irish writer, is an extremely well-written and well-crafted mystery novel. The downside is that this is French's debut novel, and her website (located at http://www.tanafrench.com/) does not offer any insi…