This book presents two twinned, parallel storylines of women suffering imprisonment.
In the main story, Jenny, a young girl in solitary confinement, reminisces about her lost love affair with Tom, an older man. There are hints that this love affair is the cause for her imprisonment (but I won’t get into that!). Solitary is dismal, as expected, but also lets Jenny’s mind wander, and we get the entire story of her affair with Tom, of her relationship with her grandmother, and her descent into passion and madness.
Jenny often speaks of color, or the lack of it, in her prison cell, fantasizing about a palette of paints. Her mental life is rich, which offers the reader a glimpse into her psyche. At first you wonder if Jenny was somehow wronged. Is she a victim of exploitation? Or is she psychotic?
In her mind, Jenny tells herself the story of Peggy Maybee, a distant ancestor who was imprisoned for trying to steal peacock feathers to give her infant son. Peggy is put on a prisoner transport ship and sent to Botany Bay, and desperate conditions, mutiny, and horrible punishment await her on the ship. I enjoyed her story as much as Jenny’s, despite the cruelty and depravity that Peggy had to endure. Her story is brutal and devastating.
I would describe Glaister’s writing style as modern gothic. There’s the subtle psychological disintegration, the haunting sense of place, the character-driven plot. She describes one item, like grey scrambled eggs, or the thin nubbiness of the bedspread, and you get a sense of the entire room, of the mood and atmosphere, of the dinginess, or newness, or oppressiveness. There’s a dark, introverted quality to the perspectives of both Jenny and Peggy.
This book was a riveting tale of blind passion. Jenny is, at first, very sympathetic, but as her story progresses she becomes less reliable, which only makes the book that more interesting. Anyone who’s had their heart broken will be able to relate to Jenny’s story, but her innocent infatuation turns dramatically into violent obsession. And yet, Glaister’s writing is so multifaceted that even in the end, as twisted as Jenny is, you still rally for her.
5 stars all way ‘round.