When quiet librarian Iris's grandmother Bertha dies, she leaves Iris an unexpected inheritance, one that might more properly have been given to Iris's mother or aunts: the family home. Iris isn't sure she wants this emotionally freighted offering, choosing to live in the house for a short time before deciding whether or not to reject the gift. As she wanders the halls and rooms of the old and unconventional home, she recalls not only her own childhood visit to Bootshaven, but her grandmother's slow slide into dementia, her aunts', Harriet and Inga, lives in the house, her grandfather Hinnerk's authoritarian presence, and the early, tragic loss of her older cousin Rosmarie plus the mystery still surrounding her death. She tells what she knows for certain and imagines what she doesn't, offering up the magical and the mundane both. As she wanders aimlessly through her family's past, she stumbles into the present as well in the person of Max, a lawyer and the younger brother of Rosmarie's best friend, a man to whom she is reluctantly attracted.
The novel meanders through time, moving forward and back as memories surface and recede and spark other memories in turn. Iris narrates the tale, actively avoiding the most painful memory contained in the house, that of her cousin's death so many years ago. Seeing everything through Iris feels as if the reader is viewing it all through a dreamy fog where the present is intimately intertwined with the shades of the past, leaving behind a distinct feeling of melancholy. There are things that are overtly magical (currant berries turning from their usual shade of red to white and tasting of tears after the death of a young girl, apple trees bearing fruit in June after an illicit tryst beneath their branches, a woman whose very touch is electric) and there are atmospheric flourishes that feel magical (the search for meaning behind the arrangement of books on shelves, Iris wearing ball gowns discovered in trunks in lieu of her own disheveled clothing) here as well. Some of the imagery is breathtakingly written but there are any number of dropped or undeveloped plot threads as well, frustrating gaps by an author who clearly knows how to use language. Although this was a very slight book, it is chock full of symbolism, serpentine narration, and half obscured or hidden meanings and while this could add up to a literary treasure, somehow here it only resulted in an unfulfilled feeling and missed chances.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.