Iris Lockhart is comfortable and confident in her skin: single, successful, and somewhat self-absorbed in her fashion business, her affair with a married man, and her sexually ambiguous relationship with her stepbrother. But something opens up in her when she flips through the admissions book of Cauldstone, a psychiatric hospital for women. Iris is appalled when she reads the entries for women committed in the 1930s at the same time as her great-aunt Esme, entries that testify "of refusals to speak, of unironed clothes, of arguments with neighbors, of hysteria, of unwashed dishes and unswept floors, of never wanting marital relations or wanting them too much or not enough or not in the right way or seeking them elsewhere." Behavior that Iris considers modern would have gotten her institutionalized not so very long ago, and the novel makes much of this point by ...
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