Gothic novel with Social Relevancy

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“I’ve finally come to realize that it’s my destiny to be one of the madwomen. One of the women who speaks the truth no matter how terrifying it might be.”

Sylvia Wren, the protagonist of The Cherry Robbers, has been forced to write a memoir – partially to preclude a rapacious journalist from writing a magazine biography or her, and partially to attempt to exorcise her past that has haunted her. In her eighties, Sylvia is a widely famous painter living in New Mexico with her wife, far from her cursed family.

The journalist's harassment forces Sylvia to reveal herself to the reader. We learn her secrets – her birth name was Lily Chapel, an heiress of the family firearms fortune. One of six sisters, she witnessed at least two of them commit suicide directly after being married, and expected that the rest of them would suffer the same fate. Her mother was cold and aloof, plagued by her belief that the ghosts of victims of the Chapel weapons haunted the huge “wedding cake” mansion. Shades of Sarah Winchester and her similar fear of avenging spirits.

Sylvia's language is lush, beautiful; we see the Chapel household as isolated, stifled, awash with stifled female sexuality that loathes or fears sexual intimacy with a man. Sylvia's childhood was in the 1950s; neither her mother nor her older sisters obtained any independence. This atmospheric narrative, burdened with grief and guilt, is nevertheless entrancing as the reader follows the course of the Chapel sisters' lives with bated breath. At least I did.

Family curses, ghosts, madness – the exotic features of the Gothic novel. But this novel is sadder, weighted with history and suppressed emotions.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via Bookish. This is an honest review.