cover image Talking to the Dead

Talking to the Dead

Helen Dunmore / Author Little Brown and Company $21.95 (304p)

The mesmerizing fourth novel from this young British writer, winner of Britain's Orange Prize, is her U.S. debut, and it will surely make her name known on this side of the Atlantic. The book's prelude--a searing prose poem so evocative that it renders almost palpable the yew-scent of a sizzling hot summer graveyard--is a promise of sensuality and intrigue that increases in intensity and produces a luxuriously gripping narrative. Nina and Isabel have a secret brother: his cot death when they were small changed their lives irrevocably. More than two decades later, when Isabel almost dies with the birth of her own son, Nina comes to help her out at her secluded country home. We quickly sense the deep bonds and tensions between the two sisters as Dunmore ingeniously swings the reader's sympathy from one to the other. Are we dealing with an angel and a devil? If so, which is which? Isabel's unmitigated selfishness seems shocking until Nina casually betrays her. Under the summer sun, long-smothered family nightmares inevitably surface. Despite the bristling heat her narrative conveys, Dunmore's style is coolly beautiful, with many a memorable phrase. ""Things are happening here that safely belong on the news, but we can't switch them off,"" muses Nina, as the elusive sense of horror builds slowly into a thunderous finale, and the devil is revealed. (June)