Barbara Neil

As powerful as Laura and Robbie Heath’s love for one another is, the sisters cannot break the silence that masks a terrifying but unconfirmed memory from their childhood, a silence that distorts their adult lives. Like a moth drawn to flame, Laura, a nightclub singer, exposes herself to sexual abuse to reenact her suffering. Robbie, a physiotherapist, offers her healing gifts to her patients, but armors herself against all emotional entanglements, cementing over her feelings and sexual desires to cut off any possibility of being hurt again. Overwhelmed by the chaos of her sister’s life and the strain of her rootless mother Esther’s dependence, Robbie flees her London home for Janvier, the lush Louisiana bayou estate of a charming old rouU, Raoul Patout, who requires her care to recover from a stroke. Just as Robbie is learning to trust the affection Raoul offers her and meet the demands of his own troubled family, Laura and Esther turn up unexpectedly at Janvier. The time has come for questions, and memory is ignited as the three women find that their silence can bind to a point of suffocation. In this hauntingly beautiful novel, Barbara Neil explores with unflinching honesty the estrangement a family will endure rather than accept the shame of the past. In doing so, she takes the reader to what Alice Miller, author ofThe Drama of the Gifted Child,has called “banished knowledge” and does so with the brilliance of language and her remarkable insight into this dark side of human experience.

1999 Shortlist

1999 Longlist

Previous winners

The Women's Prize Podcast

Tune into host Vick Hope and a line-up of incredible guests on our weekly podcast full of unmissable book recommendations.