This tender novel centers on a fragile mother/daughter relationship that begins with some foolish choices but ends up being truly alive to the endless possibilities of life. When Kitty gets a phone call from her sister, Violet, she is forced to return to London from New York with some consternation. Marina, Kitty’s brittle and delicate mother, now lies ensconced in a ward full of other women, all of whom have tried to hurt themselves in irrevocable ways.
A tortured soul, Marina has been Kitty’s burden since her earliest days, always living in Kitty’s consciousness, a passionate, spoiled, but beautiful woman with a zealous love of art and of the finer things in life. Long
Marina's favorite, Kitty jumpstarts this intimate tale, beginning with her childhood memories of her family home, Hay House, a beautiful Georgian Farmhouse surrounded by ancient orchards with “the fields always in Kitty’s eyes and the woods in her nose.”
Hay House was the very center of Kitty’s universe, and that of Nora, her sturdy Irish
nanny, and Sam and Violet, her twin brother and sister. Yet her unbound admiration and confusion for her eccentric mother ends up shaping most of Kitty’s early years. While her father, the
elusive Mr. Fitzgerald, remains distant and dies early on, only her kindly grandparents Bestemama and Bestepapa are left organize Kitty’s life
- along with Marina who ultimately calls the shots.
The pretender to the family glamour and an accomplished painter, Marina is determined to live with alacrity,
yet Kitty is persistently drenched in a world that reeks of her mother’s mystery: “People buy her paintings with small amounts of money that Kitty cannot comprehend.” An impressionable girl, Kitty is captivated by her mother’s glamorous and carefree attitude toward life and love.
When Kitty is surreptitiously packed off to boarding school so that Marina can move to New York, her daughter learns some hard lessons about the price of love. Cold and unwanted, teased and picked-on, Kitty aches to be back in the comforting arms of her mother and longs for the pains of puberty that just don’t seem to come. Marina finally relents, bringing Kitty to live with her across the Atlantic.
Here the seeds of Kitty’s female consciousness begin to coincide with her release into a wider world.
While Marina gets involved with a new-age spiritual guru, Kitty discovers boys and fashion and drinking. Even as a rebellious teenager back in London, Kitty can’t stop the wayward influences of Marina. Driven by her mother’s scandalous reputation, Kitty falls into the London club scene, the men and the ecstasy, the parties, fuelled by her mother’s self-destructive forces, whirlwind of activity, and seemingly rapid slide into depression.
Beautifully charting Kitty’s course from an emotionally vulnerable child into a boastful but deeply insecure teenager, Sophie Dahl’s narrative possesses an almost airless, breathless, and dreamlike quality.
Still, the underlying themes remain serious and compelling, of the consequences of untreated depression and of a mother and daughter learning to find their way in life, forced to face the ramifications of their choices.