Esther Freud’s ninth novel begins in 1991 with Kate and her young daughter Freya arriving by taxi at a convent in rural Ireland. As they wander around in the grounds reading the inscriptions on gravestones, a nun emerges from the house and demands to know what they are doing there. “My mother, she was here,” says Kate, who was adopted shortly after she was born. But the nun claims she is confused and ushers her off the property.
The actor Niamh Cusack delivers a smart and tender reading of this multigenerational tale, partly inspired by the author’s own family, in which three women’s lives are shaped by a secret. At the centre is Rosaleen, who moves away from her home in Ireland and begins an affair with an older, married sculptor. When she becomes pregnant and finds herself alone, she seeks help from a priest who gives her the details of a mother-and-baby home in Cork. There she finds a sadistic system where pregnant women are set to work cutting the lawn with scissors and given little to eat. Ten days after Rosaleen gives birth, her daughter is taken away.
The third voice belongs to Aoife, Rosaleen’s mother, who looks back on her long marriage at the bedside of her dying husband, Cashel, and mourns the daughter who cut all ties with them. In this powerful and frequently heartbreaking story, men appear almost as bystanders in their own lives as women are left to deal with reality, making difficult choices that can be felt for generations to come.
The Twist of a Knife
Anthony Horowitz, Penguin Audio, 8hr 31min.
Actor Rory Kinnear reads the fourth and distinctly meta instalment of the Hawthorne series, in which a theatre critic is stabbed by an ornamental dagger belonging to the author Anthony Horowitz.
This Is Not a Pity Memoir
Abi Morgan. John Murray, 7hr 44min.
This poignant memoir about love and illness from the screenwriter behind The Hour is narrated by Fiona Button.