Published by Serpent's Tail on June 2, 2022
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The reclusive Sylvia Wren, one of the most important American artists of the past century, has been running from her past for sixty years. Born Iris Chapel, of the Chapel munitions dynasty, second youngest of six sisters, she grew up in a palatial Victorian 'Wedding Cake House' in New England, neglected by her distant father and troubled, haunted mother.
The sisters longed to escape, but the only way out was marriage. Not long after the first Chapel sister walks down the aisle, she dies of mysterious causes, a tragedy that repeats with the second sister, leaving the rest to navigate the wreckage, with heart-wrenching consequences.
“This story is jagged, could cut a deep wound. It isn’t a story I can tell with a thread and a needle, stitching in clean lines. It’s shards or nothing.”
You know when they say “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”? I chose this book because I loved the cover. Didn’t actually have a clue what it was about but I thought it looked pretty. It was such a good choice, the writing and the story are both excellent.
The whole novel is told as diary entries from Sylvia Wren, an artist and recluse who barely leaves the house. She is haunted by the ghosts of her past that she has been running from most of her life. Her life when she was Iris Chapel.
“Sylvia Wren is a ghost …What a terrible thing to be a ghost while still alive.”
The Chapel firearms dynasty are an odd bunch. Their father is absent, even on their annual holiday he stays in the room working, away from his family, only making an occasional appearance to ensure that all appears to be ok with his wife and children. Their mother never wanted to marry, didn’t want to have children and yet has had 6 girls, all of whom rely on each other for company.
“Most children can’t imagine their mothers having a life before them, but for my sisters and me, it was the opposite. The wedding day was always the end of her story. We were the epilogue.”
From the start of the novel we know that Iris is the only one of the 6 sisters to survive, she has escaped her past and is living under a new name.
This is a slow burn, gothic mystery. It’s an exploration of femininity and neglect. The need to be loved and the need to escape. I was completely sucked in by the story and the writing, there are unanswered questions at the end which was frustrating but the journey to the end was amazing.