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'Feels like both a classical ghost story and like a modern (and very timely) scream of female outrage. A masterpiece' ELIZABETH GILBERT
‘Subtle, clever, suspenseful . . . builds to a shocking climax’ DIANE SETTERFIELD
'Astoundingly original, this impressive debut belongs on the shelf with your Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler collections.' New York Times
'You want to know how horrifying things happened while decent people looked on and did nothing? Read this novel' MARY BETH KEANE
'A Sunday Times Book to Read in 2020: A classic ghost story for fans of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Deborah Levy, Jeffrey Eugenides' SUNDAY TIMES STYLE
It is 1871. At the farm of Samuel Hood and his daughter, Caroline, a mysterious flock of red birds has descended. Samuel, whose fame as a philosopher is waning, takes the birds’ appearance as an omen that the time is ripe for his newest venture. He will start a school for young women, guiding their intellectual development as he has so carefully guided his daughter’s. Despite Caroline’s misgivings, Samuel’s vision – revolutionary, as always; noble, as always; full of holes, as always – takes shape.
It’s not long before the students begin to manifest bizarre symptoms: rashes, seizures, verbal tics, night wanderings. In desperate, the school turns to the ministering of a sinister physician – just as Caroline’s body, too, begins its betrayal. As the girls’ condition worsens, Caroline must confront the all-male, all-knowing authorities of her world, the ones who insist the voices of the sufferers are unreliable.
Written in intensely vivid prose and brimming with insight, The Illness Lesson is a powerful exploration of women’s bodies, women’s minds and the time-honoured tradition of doubting both.