I realized about halfway through the first chapter that this book was familiar and when I'd finished it on a recent road trip I check my archives and yes, in fact, I read it back in 2008. It was worth another read.
A young woman is contacted by a hospital to pick up her great aunt that she didn't know existed. Esme has been in a psychiatric hospital for "61 years, 5 months and 6 days". It's a poignant story of a young girl who is different being shuttered away and forgotten at a time when your father or husband could send you away.
The story goes back and forth between Esme telling her story in memories and Iris, her great niece learning about her while trying to live her own life. The contrast of a modern woman's freedom and the restrictive upbringing and expectations placed upon Esme are delicate counterpoints that draw you in. Iris's mother and Esme's sister, Kitty/Katherine, is now in a nursing home with Alzheimer's and her partial memories add to the story's unfolding.
The author references a couple of books, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980's by Elaine Showalter and Sanity, Madness and the Family by R.D. Laing that I think I'll pursue.
On another note, I'm going to start carrying my archived "reads" with me so I stop mistakenly buying books I've already read. Sheesh.
Published: 2006 Read 2013 (and previously in 2008) Genre: Fiction