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Reviews of The Sisters Mortland by Sally Beauman

The Sisters Mortland

by Sally Beauman

The Sisters Mortland by Sally Beauman X
The Sisters Mortland by Sally Beauman
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2006, 448 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2007, 448 pages

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Book Summary

A dramatic, atmospheric novel in a grand storytelling tradition, The Sisters Mortland is beguiling, complex, hauntingly sad, and often dazzlingly funny. A tour de force of tales within tales, it sets the capstone on bestselling author Sally Beauman's literary career.

"If I didn't spy, I'd be in the dark eternally. I live in a maze of unknowing - Maisie's maze - and I hate it. I need to be informed."

Summer 1967: Thirteen-year-old Maisie is at her family's home, a decaying medieval abbey in the heart of rural Suffolk. Lucas, a student and friend, is painting a portrait of Maisie and her older sisters, Julia and Finn. In turn, Maisie embarks upon a portrait of her own: She begins an account of her family and of a summer in which their lives will irrevocably, and terribly, change.

She introduces us to arrogant, beautiful Julia; to intellectual, magnetic Finn; to honorable, conventional Nicholas, a neighbor training to be a doctor; and Gypsy-blooded Daniel Nunn, a village friend to the sisters and a longtime idol of Maisie's.

More than twenty years later, Lucas's now-famous portrait of the three sisters is the centerpiece in a major London retrospective of his work. Daniel, who's risen from rural poverty to a wealthy but soulless and troubled London existence, finds himself still obsessed with the three sisters and haunted by the summer of 1967. Now he embarks on a journey to understand what happened to their lives - and seek redemption for his own.

A dramatic, atmospheric novel in a grand storytelling tradition, The Sisters Mortland is beguiling, complex, hauntingly sad, and often dazzlingly funny. A tour de force of tales within tales, it sets the capstone on bestselling author Sally Beauman's literary career.

[ one ]
Summer Maisie,
1967

WHEN WE FIRST CAME to the Abbey, it rained for five days. Nonstop. I'd been warned that this could happen in England, in spring and in summer, but I hadn't believed it. Every morning, we'd sit in silence at breakfast. Gramps hid behind his newspaper; my sisters fixed their eyes on their plates; my mother stared at air. I had to be propped up on three cushions to reach the table. Outside the windows was a wet, grieving world.

The laurels by the house hadn't been cut back then, and they dripped dismal black tears. Beyond them, you could see a corner of the old cloister, with a gargoyle spouting rain from mouth and eyes. The lawn had reverted to pasture, and the grasses bowed their heads like a congregation of penitents. The English air was a thick, peculiar mauve. The wind keened: The ground...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. This book involves a series of mysteries. Are any of the characters still a mystery to you at the end of the book? Which mysteries are left unsolved or ambiguous? Why do you think this is?

  2. One of Maisie's talents is communicating with the dead. Who are the other ghosts in this novel besides her nuns?

  3. A. E. Housman wrote, "That is the land of lost content,/I see it shining plain,/The happy highways where I went/And cannot come again." In this case, the "land of lost content" is Suffolk, but it could be anywhere. How important is the setting of Suffolk, and why? What about London?

  4. Though the novel centers on three female characters, much of it is written from Dan's point of view, and the women ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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The best person to describe The Sisters Mortland is the author herself; to quote her essay (which you can read in full at BookBrowse): "Maisie, who begins the novel is an outsider, a strange prescient thirteen-year-old child - a little girl who talks to the dead, but a girl with a tough, ascerbic mind. Maisie lures the reader in -- I intended a lure -- to what may seem at first another assay at a familiar form, the English country house novel -- a genre with a long tradition, Mansfield Park being at one end of it, and Ian McEwan's Atonement at the other. Maisie's story, her account of that summer, of her family, of the strange house in which they live (it's a medieval Abbey, a former nunnery) and of the portrait an artist friend is painting forms the first part of the novel. She describes her two sisters, clever, evasive Finn and beautiful self-centred Julia, and she struggles to understand the young men staying at the house who are irresistibly drawn to them. But I wanted the reader to see gaps; I wanted readers to decide whether the persuasive Maisie was telling the truth. Like Lucas, Maisie is also painting a portrait of three sisters -- but what does she reveal, and conceal?

Then the novel takes a a sudden unpredictable turn. It breaks with the conventions it seemed to be following, it hurtles off-piste -- there's a substantial time-jump, and I introduce a second voice, that of a man, Daniel Nunn. Dan, a friend of the sisters since early childhood, and worshipped by Maisie, has grown up in the same village but in very different circumstances. He is of Romany descent; his father is a farm labourer, and his grandmother, who brought him up, and claims to have second sight, works at the Abbey as a cleaner -- but Dan, who has won a scholarship to Cambridge, is on the cusp of change, about to abandon his home, his family and his class."..continued

Full Review (573 words)

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Media Reviews

The Independent
The reader is right there, in Suffolk, totally absorbed and longing to discover more, seduced by this most dynamic and alluring storyteller."

Booklist - Carolyn Kubisz
She carefully withholds details until she is ready to reveal them--and not a moment sooner--in an absorbing story of how people react in the face of tragedy.

Library Journal - Laurel M Bliss
Like Lucas's painting of the three sisters, this novel's rich layers blend into a powerful whole.

Publishers Weekly
With her latest gothic page-turner, Beauman (Rebecca's Tale) weaves a spellbinding tale of three charismatic English sisters and their irresistible pull on the men in their orbit. .....this well-paced, haunting novel will captivate Beauman's fans.

Author Blurb Guardian - Lisa Allardice
Beauman is a captivating and artful storyteller, capable of making us believe the unbelievable.

Author Blurb Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Breakdown Lane and The Deep End of the Ocean
Despite searing grief and longing burned into every sentence, Sally Beauman's The Sisters Mortland will beguile readers from the first page and haunt them long, long after the last.

Reader Reviews

S. Caulfield

The Sisters Mortland: A Masterpiece of Its Time
By far, the most intriguing and absorbing novel I have ever had the pleasure to read. Its labyrinth of dark corners and unfolding secrets kept me page turning until the very end. Beauman has artfully produced a true, breathing classic.
C.Sloan

What is The Point
In the beginning I eagerly read forward, but The Sisters Mortland soon became tedious. reading. I finished the book because it was my book group selection. I found Sister's to be a gothic want to be that missed its mark.

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Beyond the Book

About the author: Sally Beauman was born in Devon, England and read English Literature at Girton College, Cambridge where she graduated in 1966. Immediately after graduating, she went to live in America for three years, first in Washington DC, and then New York. During her time there she traveled extensively, visiting most of the states in the union: her experiences in the South in the year prior to the assassination of Martin Luther King, provided some of the background for her first novel, Destiny (1987). It earned her a record sum for a first novel: published in the US by Bantam, it became a New York Times number 1 bestseller, and went on to top the bestseller lists in the UK, Canada, Australia and South Africa. It has ...

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Read-Alikes

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