Thirty years later, having barely spoken to each other since childhood, the sisters return to the farm with their families on the pretext of seeing the place for one last time before it’s sold. It starts badly: Nancy’s American husband is both overly chatty and bored; Bernie is critical of her sister’s hypervigilance around Nancy’s fourteen-year-old son, who appears to have some kind of attention-deficit disorder (p79):
Bernie’s concern for Hurley reflects her own teenage years of being misunderstood, of being sent to therapists and labelled. And she’s returned to the farm with an even greater agenda than Nancy’s. Bernie believes that it’s Nancy’s denial of the events of that summer at the farm that made her ill. Nancy just thinks she’s mad.
Yet her nostalgic desire to recover the bond she felt with her sister in childhood, drives Nancy to explore both the ramshackle farm buildings and the landscape of the past (p136):
She wanted to see things from a new perspective. The people from a new perspective. She couldn’t distinguish what was real and what was imagined any more.
Memories emerge of her uncle’s friend, Tommy, “dangerous in a Byronic way” (p138), who nevertheless made her feel like the grown-up she longed to be, even if (p176):
being an adult means knowing when to ask questions when to let things be.
My title for this piece is taken from Kipling’s smuggler’s poem about turning a blind eye, which I recall from my own childhood. The Insect Rosary is a brave debut about sisterhood and the damage done to fragile minds when their truth is blatantly denied, within the context of a period of recent history which is still painfully contested. For the author’s take on the themes and structure of the novel, see my Q&A with Sarah Armstrong. Thanks to Sandstone Press for my review copy.