Drawing on the lives of four women linked by mental illness, this novel touches on many themes: alternative history, personal legacy and the power of imagination. The psychiatric hospital setting lends an air of claustrophobia. I grappled too with a fragmented, digressive narrative but my perseverance paid off. These are fascinating characters vividly portrayed, making it one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in a long time.
How does it happen? Well remember what I had written down earlier. That Violet tells of such things and people; mad women of the past. Talks about them as if she knows them and says she can, through thirty years of rattling through her tale and their tale and reading about them - I told you: she reads everything! - well, says she can drum up these women. She's researched; she's rehearsed. Voices of mad women junked up to dance for men at the Salpêtrière in Paris. Humiliated in myriad ways. And there's your answer. She's had time, and her desire to remember lost women and to have an adventure are urgent; so too her wish to help me. And whatever adventure she has, whatever she says, I, my dears, will be entering fully into it too.