As dawn breaks over sleeping houses, Eleanor straps her infant daughter Amy, into the back of her car. Together they will escape the private hell of Eleanor's marriage to make the drive to blue mountain, a place of enchantment and refuge that lit up Eleanor's childhood. Can she be sure that her husband, Braun, is not on their trail?
As the car eats up the long miles of highway, so Eleanor's mind dives back into the depths of her childhood, and into her fraught relationship with her mother, Kitty. Kitty a woman who wanted so much, in marriage and in love. Kitty who always tried to hard to bend Eleanor, her brother and her father, to her image of the perfect family.
In her masterful second book, Sarah Schmidt, acclaimed author of SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE? reworks the classic road novel to tense, devastating, and ultimately redemptive effect.
This was an exquisite read. Often troubling, very dark and unflinching in the way it explores relationships, it is a story that grips you from page one and still has a hold on you long after you close the book up after finishing it.
It's the story of a family over different generations - starting with the dramatic story of Eleanor who is leaving with her daughter Amy, walking away from her marriage, to escape to blue mountain where she has the strongest memories from her childhood. It was her refuge and you notice that nature is always her 'get out' at the most troublesome of times and that leads the story to take us back to her mother and father, cleverly switching between the 1970's and the 1940's.
The story of Kitty is another shocking aspect of this book. It tells of a troubled relationship with Eleanors' father and how the times shaped their lives. Her life was always focussed on getting away from her parents, so she became a nurse tending to returning soldiers and it's here she meets George and quickly falls in love. But they're young and their passion soon fizzles out but she feels obligated to be with him - it seems to become her duty to take care of him when he returns a shell of his former self, dealing with his mood swings and she is pregnant too.
What follows is an exploration of those expectations of what life is - the reality of motherhood, the impact of mental illness on those around, and trying to make sense of it all and trying not to let history repeat itself. Noticing those signs and trying to change the course of your life, but then walking that same path allows her to understand what really was going on back in her childhood that she missed seeing.
This is a brutal book at times, it shares some explicit scenes as the author isn't afraid to confront the worst of human relationships - the lengths people go to for love and the fine line between that and control. You get that sense of ownership, be it of a parent over a child, or a lover over a partner, and how dark and soul destroying that impacts on the people involved.
There is so much hurt in this family that your heart just breaks as you read their stories. There's tragedy throughout and it can make this a very disturbing read at times, but it just lays bare the realities and complexities that humans face, and how that shapes them in their journey and future relationships.
There are shocking revelations littered throughout which just adds to the emotional impact of this story, but it is a staggering piece of work and although it may break you at times as it did me, it is one of those powerful stories that you feel honoured to have read. Stunning!
My thanks to Emily Patience and Headline Books for the advance copy in return for a fair and honest review.