Marble Heart

Gretta Mulrooney, Author
Gretta Mulrooney, Author HarperCollins (UK) $19.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-00-225929-3
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British author Mulrooney (Araby) has written a page-turner with meat on its bones, a psychological thriller as dark and satisfying as a pint of Guinness. In contemporary London, retired university lecturer Nina Rawle, debilitated by lupus, hires caregiver Joan Douglas as a companion. Middle-aged Joan, fond of homey aphorisms, cares for acerbic Nina while preparing for marriage to her pen-pal Rich, who is on the verge of release from prison. The two women forge an unlikely friendship, as Nina introduces Joan to new foods and helps her choose a wedding dress. But, as readers learn from a series of letters that Nina is writing to her old friend Majella, Nina is crippled by guilt as well as lupus--she is haunted by a blood secret from her student days in Ireland, when she and Majella participated in Belfast's radical fringe. Mulrooney, writing as Nina, conjures up the heady intensity of that time in a wash of demonstrations, late-night meetings and damp basement rooms, with Nina's fervency rooted in her infatuation with spirited Majella and her dark, charismatic boyfriend, Finn, leader of a local left-wing group. Nina's letters also chronicle her gradual move from blithe activism to violent action, propelled by Finn's manipulations and her loyalty to ""the cause."" Nina's hidden past and Joan's sunny present converge in a shocking revelation that binds the two women together and threatens to trigger a new tragedy. Although it drags in a few places and feels contrived in others, Mulrooney's novel features characters who are so strong and language so vivid that readers will be riveted to her storytelling. (Feb. 1)
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