A mother’s secret past and her daughter’s present collide in this richly atmospheric novel from the acclaimed author of The Animals at Lockwood Manor.
In the summer of 1973, Ruth and her four friends were obsessed with pre-Raphaelite paintings—and a little bit obsessed with each other. Drawn to the cold depths of the river by Ruth’s house, the girls pretend to be the drowning Ophelia, with increasingly elaborate tableaus. But by the end of that fateful summer, real tragedy finds them along the banks.
Twenty-four years later, Ruth returns to the suffocating, once grand house she grew up in, the mother of young twins and seventeen-year-old Maeve. Joining the family in the country is Stuart, Ruth’s childhood friend, who is quietly insinuating himself into their lives and gives Maeve the attention she longs for. She is recently in remission, unsure of her place in the world now that she is cancer-free. Her parents just want her to be an ordinary teenage girl. But what teenage girl is ordinary?
Alternating between the two fateful summers, The Ophelia Girls is a suspense-filled exploration of mothers and daughters, illicit desire, and the perils and power of being a young woman.
Healey (The Animals at Lockwood Manor) captivates with a dark and sensual novel that reveals the inner lives of two teenage girls a generation apart. Middle-aged Ruth Hawkins moves her family into the ramshackle country house in Kent, England, where she spent her childhood, after the death of her estranged father. Her 17-year-old daughter Maeve's cancer is in remission, and she hopes the family can heal together. But returning to the house and offering the guest house to Stuart, a friend from her youth and now a celebrated photographer brings back memories of the summer of 1973, a time tinged by love and tragedy. Then, Ruth and her friends were called "the Ophelia Girls" by their parents for posing in maudlin Polaroid photos inspired by pre-Raphaelite paintings and tragic heroines. Now, Maeve, bearing a striking resemblance to the youthful Ruth, secretly agrees to pose for Stuart in a series of suggestive portraits. Imagery of drowning and of natural cycles of bloom and decay suffuses Maeve's narrative and Ruth's flashbacks and can feel overdone but Healey excels at probing her characters' psyches. Ruth longs to be a good mother, while Maeve vacillates between not wanting to grow up and wanting Stuart to see her as mature. In the end, this develops into a lush, seductive portrait of desire. Agent: Hayley Steed, Madeleine Milburn Literary.